NHS and care workers returning to the UK from high-risk countries will no longer be exempt from quarantine rules from tomorrow.
New guidance – slipped out by the Government on Thursday afternoon – said healthcare staff will have to self-isolate for 14 days from Friday if they come back from visiting countries such as Spain.
NHS and care staff who were needed at work were originally exempt from the rules.
But the Government has scrapped the distinction amid fears of a second wave of coronavirus in European countries.
It looks set to throw thousands of NHS workers’ holiday plans into jeopardy – and is yet another major rule change with only hours to spare.
The guidance said: “The move brings them in line with the general public and further protects the NHS and social care system from the spread of coronavirus from overseas, as signs of second waves begin to show in other countries.
“Following review of whether the measure is still necessary, an exemption has been removed to minimise the risk of onward chains of transmission that might infect the wider workforce.”
The exemption for healthcare workers was put in place in June, when quarantine rules were first brought in.
NHS staff and carers who are spending their holidays in countries with so-called travel corridors, such as France and Italy, will not have to quarantine, in line with the rest of the public.
The latest u-turn comes after the Government sparked anger from tourists and the travel industry by abruptly scrapping quarantine-free travel with Spain.
The decision was taken on Saturday following a spike in coronavirus cases in the country – and made public only hours before it came into force.
Matt Hancock warned travellers on Thursday that new countries could be added to the quarantine list in the coming days, with countries such Belgium and Luxembourg understood to be in the frame.
Amid pressure from the tourism sector, the Health Secretary said ministers are looking at ways to reduce the 14-day period, possibly by the use of multiple tests.