Amid the gathering gloom of autumn and accelerating infection rates, the hardy British traveller can still climb the highest peak in the Netherlands mainland without triggering two weeks of self-isolation.
In his latest Thursday Teatime Tweet to the Nation, the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, moved Cyprus to the no-go list. Even though the UK’s rate of new infections is more than twice as high, anyone returning from the Mediterranean island after 4am on Sunday must quarantine. The Foreign Office solemnly asserts Cyprus is “unacceptably high risk” for British tourists, annulling standard travel insurance policies. Plucky Lithuania is now also effectively out-of-bounds, too.
Yet Germany, which has very similar numbers to Cyprus and is about to begin a nationwide lockdown, survives for another week. Which means you may, if you wish, take a PCR test to satisfy the German authorities, fly to Dusseldorf and board a train to Aachen. This was the imperial capital of Charlemagne, the European superwarrior who is buried in the cathedral. Board a bus to the Dutch border, hop off smartly at the last stop in Germany, then follow the path to the modest peak of Vaalserberg.
In the weird world of 2020, you can stand beside the stone marking the summit of the modest mountain and the point where Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands converge. But a single step across either border leads to a two-week journey of self-discovery: mandatory quarantine on your return to the UK.
This is one stitch in the Corona Curtain, the invisible barrier separating Germany from its dangerous neighbours: the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and all nations to Poland. From the UK’s perspective, only Denmark remains part of the quarantine-free alliance.
During various airline and holiday crises over the years, I have occasionally and inadvertently assumed a role as voice of travel doom. That job has now been secured by Mr Shapps, the caller in the weekly game of quarantine bingo. The transport secretary routinely triggers a mad rush for the airport and a corresponding bonus for airlines: within minutes of his latest announcement, BA’s cheapest fare from Larnaca in Cyprus to Heathrow on Saturday soared above £500. The price was driven up by British holidaymakers suddenly desperate to return from their outdoor lifestyle on a beautiful island with significantly fewer infections than the UK.
For months I have struggled to comprehend the successive versions of the UK’s quarantine policy – to understand why you or I can ascend the minor mountain of