From Monday 8 June, the vast majority of people entering the UK from abroad will be required to undertake a two-week quarantine in measures designed to restrict the spread of coronavirus.
The measures, which have faced criticism from travel companies and MPs on both sides of the political spectrum, have been introduced as part of the Government’s plan to “keep the transmission rate down and prevent a devastating second waves”.
They have dealt a blow to the hopes of British residents hopeful for the opportunity to take a holiday abroad this summer, as there is currently no confirmation as to when the measures will be eased.
What are the rules of the UK quarantine?
Under the new rules, passengers arriving into the UK (including British nationals, but excluding some classes of workers) will have to provide an address where they will remain for 14 days.
Currently, laws have been published for England, with separate legislation expected to follow for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Travellers will be expected to fill out a form online on gov.uk up to 48 hours in advance of travel, providing contact information, travel details and an address of where they plan to self-isolate once they arrive.
Facilities will be provided at the border for those who have been unable to fill the forms out in advance – if they fail to take this final opportunity it will constitute in an offence, which could result in a fine.
Travellers are urged to use cars or other forms of private transport to travel from the airport when they arrive in the UK but if they must use public transport, they are advised to take the most direct route possible to their accommodation.
UK travellers can go back to their home and self-isolate there, although they can can also isolate in the home of a friend or relative, a hotel, hostel, bed and breakfast, or “other suitable” accommodation.
More than one address can be provided if a “legal obligation” requires a person to change addresses, or it is necessary for them to stay overnight on their arrival before “travelling directly to another address at which they will be self-isolating”.
Checks are set to be carried out by officials, like Border Force officers, as travellers arrive at airports and ports to make sure they have filled out the forms. The Government has also threatened to carry out spot checks around the country to make sure people are complying during the quarantine period.
In the first instance public health authorities, using private contractors, will phone people and question them to establish whether they are self-isolating – if there is concern they are not complying, they could be reported to the police.
UK travellers also face a 14 day quarantine on arrival to some countries abroad, although the European Commission said its guidance involves countries working together to gradually remove travel bans, while keeping the virus under control, and eventually opening all of the EU’s internal borders.
When will the 14-day quarantine rules end?
Although there isn’t a set end date for the quarantine rules, they will only be in place for an initial three-week period, until at least 29 June. They could last as long as a year, when the legislation expires, but will continue to be reviewed every three weeks.
At the Downing Street press conference on Tuesday 2 June John Newton, the Government’s Covid-19 testing czar, suggested that they could be repealed once the NHS Test and Trace scheme, which launched last week, is fully operational.
At that briefing Boris Johnson said: “We will review how the policy is working after three weeks. And of course we will explore the possibility of international travel corridors with countries that have low rates of infection – but only when the evidence shows that it is safe to do so.”
However, he refused to say when Britons would know whether or not they can enjoy a summer holiday, saying: “Everybody at the moment should avoid non-essential travel.”
Ministers have emphasised that the quarantine rules will be “temporary and time limited” – potentially opening the door for summer holidays abroad if the new regime is replaced in late June or July. Simon Clarke, the local government minister, said: “We all want these restrictions to be lifted as soon as it’s safe to do so.”
Before the rules were unveiled a senior Government source told i they would be closely monitored from the moment they come in, adding: “Just like social distancing, it’s a totally new measure so we have to monitor how it’s working.”
How could the quarantine rules change?
There are various indications as the how quarantine rules could be eased after 29 June or following subsequent reviews.
One option put forward by Professor John Newton as an alternative to a blanket quarantine is for visitors from abroad to be given details of how to enroll in Test and Trace if they fall ill, with their contacts traced so they so not risk seeding a major coronavirus outbreak.
He said: “If we are able to very quickly respond with a test and trace programme, then we could cover it in that way. If travellers are able to be tested and self-isolate in response to contact tracing just like a domestic new case, that would also be a way of dealing with it.”
The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary Priti Patel have suggested that the Government is investigating establishing “international travel corridors” with countries that were deemed safe.
These “corridors,” also known as “air bridges,” would allow people in the UK to travel to countries with a low infection rate without entering quarantine on their return.
It means holidaymakers may be able to visit the likes of France, Portugal and Greece over the summer without having to self-isolate either when they fly out or when they return.
Other countries around the world are allowing travel bridges, with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania permitting free travel between one another, while Australia and New Zealand are considering similar measures.
According to some reports, ministers could use a five-point assessment to decide which countries will be prioritised for such agreements, based on:
- The economic importance of the country to the UK
- The number of passengers and amount of trade
- The Covid-19 “risk picture” and the health screening requirements in place at airports for passengers coming to Britain
- A country’s Covid-19 controls
- Ensuring the R rate of infection in a country is low
Britain’s airlines sent ministers a list of the 45 nations that they want to be exempt from quarantine rules, which included key European holiday destinations such as France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Malta, Croatia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus and Turkey.
Much of eastern Europe and Scandinavia is also included, while in Africa Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt are all on the list.
The USA, Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas, Antigua, Barbados, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and St Lucia are all included, as are Israel, Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong.
Notable exemptions from the list included Belgium, where the R rate is currently very high, Iceland, Ukraine, Russia, South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, the United Arab Emirates, China, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.
What has the reaction to the quarantine been?
Upon unveiling the plans in the House of Commons, Ms Patel faced a barrage of complaints from across the political spectrum.
Former Conservative minister Theresa Villiers called on the Government to “suspend the implementation of this blanket quarantine requirement to give just a few more weeks to get those safe air corridors in place so we can save jobs in aviation and let families go on their summer breaks in the sun”.
Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow Home Secretary, described the measures as “a three-week fudge to try to spare the Government the embarrassment of failing to grip this issue at the right time”.
The Government’s main scientific and medical advisers have refused to endorse the policy, which was drawn up without the direct approval of the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, had suggested that border quarantines work best when applied to specific countries with high levels of infection, rather than taking a blanket approach.
The backlash from the travel industry has been fierce, with Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary responding: “This quarantine is a joke. There are no controls, and the form which they expect visitors to fill in in just four days’ time hasn’t even been published yet.”
On Friday 5 June, British Airways’ parent company announced that it was considering taking legal action against the Government’s decision to implement the quarantine.
IAG chief executive Willie Walsh described the policy as “terrible” and warned it has “torpedoed our opportunity to get flying in July”.
He told Sky News: “We think it’s irrational, we think it’s disproportionate, and we are giving consideration to a legal challenge to this legislation. We’re reviewing that with the lawyers later on today.”
Additional reporting from the Press Association