Quarantine: What do the new rules mean for my travel plans?
These are the key questions and answers about what the UK’s first blanket quarantine policy will mean for your travel plans.
What is happening – and why now?
Starting on 8 June, most travellers travelling to the UK by air, sea or rail will be required to self-isolate for 14 days. The rules apply to returning holidaymakers as well as foreign visitors to the UK.
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The home secretary, Priti Patel, said: “Now we are past the peak of this virus, we must take steps to guard against imported cases, triggering a resurgence of this deadly disease.
"As the transmission rate across the UK falls, and the number of travellers arriving in the UK begins to increase, imported cases could begin to pose a larger and increased threat.
"This is because they could become a higher proportion of the overall number of infections in the UK and therefore increase the spread of the disease."
After announcing the measures, Ms Patel declined to answer a question about whether summer holidays had now been cancelled, but said: “This is absolutely not about booking holidays.
“We’re not advising when it comes to travel.”
Her announcement has the immediate effect of deterring British holidaymakers from going abroad. Quarantine will also wipe out inbound tourism and business travel for the early part of the summer.
The present number of travellers coming into the UK – currently around 7,000 per day, mostly into Heathrow – is expected to dwindle almost to zero while quarantine remains in force.
Any UK-bound traveller who feels quarantine is not for them can simply arrange to arrive in Britain before 7 June.
What are the mechanics?
From 8 June 2020, every traveller arriving in the UK will be presumed to be carrying Covid-19 and treated accordingly.
The Home Office says: “Information will be available to incoming travellers, including on the government’s social distancing guidelines, through messaging and announcements in flight and leaflets and posters on arrival.
Before departing by air, rail or sea to the UK, travellers will be expected to fill in a form with travel details and contact information so they can be contacted if they, or someone they may have been in contact with, develops the disease
The Home Office says: “Through the new online locator contact form all arriving passengers will need to provide details of their self-isolation accommodation.
“If this does not meet the necessary requirements – such as hotels, or with friends or family – they will be required to self-isolate in facilities arranged by the government.”
Travellers are told: “If you will not be able to safely self-isolate at the place you’re planning to stay, tell Border Force officers when you arrive in the UK. They’ll give you a choice of accommodation to stay at.”
There will be no formal examination upon arrival at the UK border, but spot checks will be carried out to ensure the online form has been completed.
The Home Office says: ”Border Force will undertake checks at the border and may refuse entry to any non-British citizen who refuses to comply with these regulations and isn’t resident in the UK.”
Will the government provide safe transport home from the airport, ferry port or railway station?
No, the current advice will continue to apply: you should ideally travel home in a car driven by someone from the household where you will self-isolate.
Many travellers, though, are likely to use taxis or public transport.
How restrictive will self-isolation be?
The Home Office says travellers, once home, should not go to work, school or to any public areas, or use public transport or taxis.
“They should not go out to buy food or other essentials where they can rely on others,” officials say.
During quarantine, the arrived travellers should not have visitors, including friends and family, unless they are providing essential support.
While members of the same household need not themselves self-isolate, the official advice to travellers is: “If you’re at home or staying with friends or family, avoid contact with the people you’re staying with and minimise the time you spend in shared areas.
“If you’re staying in a hotel or guest house, you cannot use shared areas such as bars, restaurants, health clubs and sports facilities. Stay 2 metres away from all other guests and staff.”
How will quarantine be enforced?
The home secretary said: “I fully expect the majority of people will do the right thing and abide by these measures. But we will take enforcement action against the minority of people who endanger the safety of others.”
Public-health officials can telephone or call at the nominated address at any time during the 14 days. If the traveller is not at home or out with a valid excuse, a £1,000 fixed penalty notice will be issued in England.
The administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will decide their own levels of fines.
Fines in England could increase if the risk of infection from abroad increases, the home secretary warned.
But the Metropolitan Police Federation has told The Independent that officers do not have the resources to enforce quarantine.
Michael O’Leary, chief executive of Ryanair, has predicted: “People will simply ignore something which is so hopelessly defective.”
Who is exempt?
The government has published a comprehensive list of exemptions.
Some essential professions, including truck drivers, transport staff and medical professionals will escape the obligation to remain at home for two weeks.
Agricultural workers with “an offer of employment for seasonal work to carry out specific activities in edible horticulture on a named farm” are also able to avoid the measure.
“International commuters” – defined as “a person who resides in the UK and who pursues an activity as an employed or self-employed person in another country to which they usually go at least once a week” are also exempt.
Discussions are going on within government about whether to grant exemption to elite sportsmen and women.
International transit passengers arriving at Heathrow airport will be able to make onward connections as normal without formality.
Travellers arriving in the UK from the Common Travel Area – including the Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man – will be exempt.
That is currently irrelevant for travellers from Britain hoping to visit any of these locations.
They either ban visitors or require – in the case of Ireland – 14 days of quarantine for arrivals from all foreign countries, including the UK. Furthermore no tourist facilities are open in the republic.
So what are the “Dublin dodges”?
Despite the government’s stated intention for quarantine policy, the Home Office rules include loopholes that present the opportunity to UK-bound travellers from third countries legally to bypass the required two weeks in isolation on arrival in Britain.
Ireland’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) waives the quarantine obligation for passengers en route to the UK in two cases. The first is make an immediate connection at Dublin airport on Aer Lingus to a UK airport.
For example, from Amsterdam on 8 June the traveller could fly to Dublin, arriving at 11.05am, and connect to the 12 noon departure to Heathrow, for a total fare of €112 (£100). The journey is feasible only for those carrying cabin baggage.
The second option: the traveller from a third country touches down at Dublin airport and, at passport control, declares an intention to travel immediately to Northern Ireland on a direct bus from the airport.
The airport authority says: “HSE rules for arriving passengers do not apply if you are briefly stopping over at the airport on your way to another country [or] travelling onwards to Northern Ireland.”
If there are no direct flights to Dublin from the traveller’s location, they can instead book a flight to Heathrow and then make an airside transfer for an Aer Lingus flight to the Irish capital. Once there, they fly straight back to London – or to any other city in Britain.
At present the second option is inadmissible because the Northern Ireland Executive does not allow leisure trips. It says: “No-one may leave their home without reasonable excuse.”
Transit to Great Britain for non-essential purposes does not count as an excuse.
Surely circumventing health measures is irresponsible?
Yes. Anyone seeking to exploit the so-called “Dublin dodges“ would increase risk to themselves and others. With the additional transportation involved, the number of interactions with frontline staff and passengers on essential journeys would rise sharply.
The government believes that travellers availing of the loopholes will be breaching the spirit of the quarantine rules.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “Anyone travelling from Ireland will be exempt.
“However, given the high levels of compliance we have seen to date, we expect that the majority of people will do the right thing and abide by these measures.”
Writing in The Independent, Lucie McInerney said: “Now is not the time to behave in such a shamelessly self-serving way.
“I’d imagine that anyone who does will be fairly roundly – and rightly – lambasted for such selfish behaviour.”
If I travel between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, must I self-isolate?
No, though at present you can travel within the UK (and especially within Northern Ireland) only for essential purposes. A business, family or leisure trip does not count.
Is there an option to take a test on arrival, and so skip quarantine?
No. While other countries have deployed this strategy, the UK will not offer that possibility. Nor will Covid-19 certificates issued by foreign countries ahead of the journey be accepted in lieu of self-isolation.
I have a holiday booked this summer and can’t handle a fortnight of self-isolation when I return. Can I cancel?
You can cancel, but legally you are not entitled to a refund. If the travel firm or airline can safely operate your trip and bring you back to the UK, they will have fulfilled their contract. The fact that you would then need to self-isolate is not their problem.
But the travel industry recognises that very few travellers will want to go on holiday if they then are obliged to stay indoors for two weeks. The two biggest holiday companies, Tui and Jet2, were planning to restart operations in mid-June.
I predict they will cancel hundreds of thousands of packages in June, possibly extending into July. But any Tui customer who wants certainty can take advantage of the travel firm’s new policy that allows holidaymakers booked until the end of August to postpone without penalty.
Airlines, too, are not legally obliged to provide refunds if you no longer wish to travel. In practice some – such as British Airways – are likely to cancel flights wholesale, allowing you to claim your money back, while others may offer vouchers for future travel. If the flight goes ahead, you are not entitled to a refund.
Can’t I just claim on travel insurance?
No. The existence of a law requiring you to self-isolate on return does not affect the performance of the trip.
How long will the quarantine policy remain in place?
No one knows. The conditions that the government cites as justification for the policy are likely to prevail for many months. So logically quarantine should probably remain in place for the rest of the year.
But the government has promised to review the policy every three weeks. Many MPs are furious about the harm the quarantine policy is causing to businesses and individuals in their constituents, and want it either axed or neutralised.
With medical justification for quarantine at this stage so sketchy, and the economic and emotional harm the policy will cause so intense, it is thought unlikely to be renewed more than once – at least before some arrangements are brought in to allow British travellers to visit the most popular countries.
Six weeks would take the policy to Monday 20 July, which coincides with the start of the holidays for many schools in England and Wales.
What happened to the plans for “air bridges” to give wider exemptions?
The transport secretary floated the option of “air bridges” as part of a desperate bid to limit the damage. But Grant Shapps’s proposals for certain nations signing mutual quarantine-free deals with the UK were rebutted by Downing Street.
When quarantine comes up for review, though, air-bridge arrangements are likely to be used to justify lifting the obligation for arrivals from the most popular holiday destinations.
Spain, France, Portugal, Italy, Croatia, Greece, Malta, Cyprus and Turkey will all press for exemption, possibly along with the US.
Will last-minute travel become the norm?
Yes. The travel industry believes that no significant fresh outbound holiday sales will be made while the open-ended prospect remains of a fortnight’s mandatory self-isolation on return.
Rationally no one will book a trip a long way ahead knowing that the government can impose arbitrary policies that would scupper travel plans.
When quarantine is finally lifted, can self-isolating travellers simply stop?
No. They will be expected to complete their mandatory assignment. Many travel industry figures, though, believe that most individuals in this unfortunate position when an end to quarantine is announced will simply abandon isolation.
What needs to happen before foreign holidays become possible again?
These are my five tests:
- Has lockdown been eased enough to allow you to reach the UK airport?
- Has the Foreign Office lifted its warning against all overseas travel?
- Is there an airline prepared to take you?
- Will the destination country let you in?
- The new condition: can you tolerate self-isolating on your return?
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