‘Perfectly legal’: UK citizens flouting hotel quarantine by flying to Turkey

Travel companies offer alternatives to red-list passengers who cannot afford to isolate in Britain

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - APRIL 30: Tourists, exempt from the curfew walk at Sultanahmet square and its surroundings remaining empty after a 17-day full lockdown from Thursday evening until May 17 to stem the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, in Istanbul, Turkey on April 30, 2021. (Photo by Muhammed Enes Yildirim/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Powered by automated translation

Some UK citizens are avoiding entering hotel quarantine by taking a holiday in Turkey before heading home.

Travel companies are marketing “quarantine packages” to British nationals flying to the UK from red-list countries, particularly Pakistan, with a 10-day detour via Turkey.

One travel agency told The National the arrangement was  "perfectly legal".

Other operators suggest passengers should “have a vacation” in Turkey, which does not impose quarantine on most travellers and is not on the UK’s red list, before making the onward journey to Britain.

Travellers arriving from red-list countries are required to pay £1,750 ($2,430) to isolate in a UK hotel for 10 days.

Hotel quarantine only applies if the traveller has been in a red list country in the past 10 days.

Ascher Khawaja from Oltrax Travel said travellers coming from Pakistan could potentially save more than £1,300 by avoiding the UK’s hotel quarantine system.

“I’ve helped some customers stuck in Pakistan who couldn’t afford to come back (directly to the UK),” he said.

“There’s plenty of people wanting to come back through Turkey because they are in a desperate situation. It’s perfectly legal.”

But the deals are causing anger in Turkey, where a 7pm curfew is in place until May 17.

Everyone entering Turkey must present a negative Covid-19 test, but only travellers from India are required to quarantine for 14 days in designated dormitories. Most tourists on short-term stays are exempt from the curfew.

Babe Makkah Travel, which is based in Pakistan, told The National its agents had sold two trips to Turkey to British citizens. It said travellers must have an onward ticket to the UK to take advantage of the offer.

It added that it was now focusing on Saudi Arabia, with travellers first staying in Bahrain.

Meanwhile, Vision Travels and Tours, also based in Pakistan but which lists a UK phone number, tells travellers: “No worries, be happy … travel back to UK from Pakistan and have holidays in Turkey during Covid 2021.”

Another company asks: “Why quarantine in a £1,750 hotel when you can enjoy 10 days break in Turkey.”

Murat Emir, a deputy with Turkey’s main opposition party, questioned how many travellers from Pakistan and India had used the loophole to “wander around freely” before travelling to Britain. He suggested the quarantine requirement on travellers was not being applied consistently in Turkey.

“British citizens coming to Turkey from Pakistan can wander around freely, causing the Indian variant to spread here,” he said.

“Turkey urgently needs to tackle this gap and implement (the) restrictions on India for Pakistan, as other European countries have done.”

The UK’s Department for Transport said people who had not been in a red list country for the past 10 days should still isolate at home on arrival, while the Department of Health and Social Care did not respond to questions.

More on travel:

How the UK’s traffic-light system for travel will work

Fortnight’s notice of changes to quarantine-free green list

Summer travel: expect testing and masks for some time to come