Virus passports and travel corridors could allow families to travel abroad this summer.
A quarantine regime will be introduced on June 8 requiring arrivals to the UK to self-isolate for 14 days. But ministers hope to strike quarantine-free pacts with summer destinations – such as France, Spain and Greece – by August and possibly July.
They are also examining the idea of ‘Covid passports’ to let those who have had the disease travel more widely and without having to go into quarantine on their return. The new border regime will apply to almost all arrivals, including incoming Britons. Rule breakers face fines of £1,000.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said quarantine was vital to prevent new cases of coronavirus being brought in from abroad.
But the policy was criticised by the aviation and tourism sectors, the wider business community and even some Tory MPs.
Virus passports and travel corridors could allow families to travel abroad this summer. Pictured: Passengers wearing PPE queue up to board a China-bound flight at Terminal 2 of Heathrow Airport today
Passengers wearing personal protective equipment queued up to board a flight at Heathrow Airport today
Ministers hope to strike quarantine-free pacts with summer destinations – such as France, Spain and Greece (Santorini, pictured)– by August and possibly July.
Plexiglass panels protect an umbrella and sunbeds as a preventive measure taken to curb the spread of coronavirus in Santorini
Backbencher David Davis claimed quarantine should not be used to ‘punish’ countries who ‘have handled the coronavirus better than us’.
Labour MP Ben Bradshaw responded to Mr Davis’s tweet by stating: ‘Not often I agree with David Davis, but he’s right to say there’s a stronger case for quarantining arrivals at Kings Cross from Yorkshire than on arrivals from low infection countries like Greece, Malta and Portugal.’
Yorkshire and the Humber has reported 13,685 coronavirus cases. This is significantly higher than in the South West of the country where 7,476 diagnoses have been reported.
Different parts of the UK also have a different R rate, which is used to indicate how fast the virus is spreading.
R rates calculated by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine suggest the East Midlands has the fastest spread of infection, with a rate of between 0.8 and 1.2.
Priti Patel today announced all travellers returning to the UK from abroad will face a mandatory 14 days in quarantine
On the other hand, London, which was the hardest hit part of the UK, has a current R rate of 0.5 to 0.8, the lowest in the country.
The government this week confirmed it will not vary the lifting of lockdown by region.
The strict new rules
What is going to happen?
All passengers arriving in the UK will have to fill in a form before heading to Britain. This will include British nationals coming home, as well as foreign visitors. You must provide the address at which you will be staying in the UK – and self-isolate there. You will not be allowed to leave that address at all, or receive visitors, for 14 days.
How will it work?
Passengers will be able to complete ‘contact locator form’ on the Government’s website up to 48 hours before departure. There will be no paper versions of the form. Failing to complete the form before travelling is a crime, but there will be a short grace period and allow travellers to fill in the form electronically in the arrivals hall.
How will this be enforced?
There will be spot checks to ensure all passengers have completed a form. Border Force staff will interview people as they leave planes and at border checkpoints.
What happens if I refuse to fill in a contact locator form?
You will be given an on-the-spot £100 fine by Border Force officers.
When will this come into force?
What checks will take place during the 14-day period?
Public health officials will carry out random checks by telephone. If these raise doubts, police will visit the address, issuing a fine where necessary.
What happens if I leave the address I provide in the form?
In England, you will be issued with a £1,000 spot fine. You could even be prosecuted, and face an unlimited fine if convicted. The fine could increase beyond £1,000 if the ‘risk of infection from abroad increases’, the Home Office says. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will have their own enforcement systems.
Will foreign visitors be treated differently?
Yes. They could be removed from the UK ‘as a last resort’ if they fail to comply, the Home Office says. Officials could also refuse entry to non-UK nationals who are resident here. But they cannot refuse entry to British nationals.
Can I use public transport to travel from the airport to my isolation address?
Yes, but the Home Office says it would be preferable if you used your car.
Why is all this necessary?
The Government says it must be able to contact you if it emerges, for example, that someone on your flight is diagnosed with coronavirus. And if you get sick, the authorities will be able to warn everyone you came into contact with.
What if I don’t have a suitable address to go to for 14 days?
The Government will provide isolation accommodation – possibly at similar venues to those used by travellers coming back from China earlier this year. The traveller will have to pay for this.
Tim Alderslade, of the industry group Airlines UK, said: ‘All a blanket quarantine will do is shut down aviation and the travel industry.
‘We need to be much more targeted and risk-based, opening up travel corridors with low-risk countries that more effectively achieves our public health objectives while enabling people to get away this summer.’
Adam Marshall, of the British Chambers of Commerce, said blanket restrictions would ‘damage international business and investor confidence at a time when it is vital to demonstrate that the UK can open for business safely’.
Limited quarantine exemptions will be allowed for truck drivers, seasonal fruit pickers and a small number of essential workers.
The rules, which will be reviewed every three weeks and do not apply to Ireland, came as:
- It emerged London could lead the way out of lockdown, with talks next week on letting cafes and restaurants open for outdoor service
- An exclusive Mail poll suggested employees do not want to go back into work because they fear the lockdown is being eased too quickly;
- Health officials suggested that the two-metre rule could be eased;
- A row broke out over the official advice from Government scientists about the reopening of schools;
- The country’s top obesity and diabetes doctor said families were likely to have piled on weight in the lockdown;
- Official figures showed government borrowing hit £62billion last month – almost as much as the figure for the whole of last year;
- Scientists hit out at the official response to the pandemic, suggesting the lockdown delay may have cost lives;
- Council bosses and police forces began taking drastic measures to keep holidaymakers away from beauty spots over the bank holiday;
- The leader of the NHS suggested it could fill thousands of vacancies by retraining staff from troubled industries such as airlines;
- The testing tsar said thousands of kits posted to homes have not been returned;
Whitehall sources claimed Transport Secretary Grant Shapps had fought to keep alive the idea of air bridges and travel corridors, which were initially resisted by Miss Patel who last night said the advice was not to book holidays now.
But Mr Shapps has already set up a working group to consider how travel corridors could be established in time for the summer break.
Ministers are also examining whether those who have had coronavirus could be exempted from quarantine.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed on Thursday that Britain has purchased 10million antibody tests that can tell whether an individual has had the virus.
A spokesman for the Association of British Travel Agents said quarantine would ‘have a hugely damaging impact on the UK inbound and outbound tourism industries’.
A spokesman for Ryanair said the airline was ‘strongly opposed to ineffective non-scientific measures’.
Former Brexit secretary David Davis said it was ‘very, very difficult to see how this is actually effective or cost-effective or balanced’.
Ministers fearful of a Tory rebellion over the issue have drawn up the new regulations in a way that means they will not need to hold a vote in the House of Commons.
The latest Downing Street statistics show the number of daily coronavirus deaths is continuing to fall
The R number, showing the rate of transmission, remains the same at between 0.7 and 1.0 with an estimated 61,000 new infections in England every week
Passengers wearing protective clothing are seen at Heathrow Airport, London, today
The Home Secretary said the UK needed to protect the ‘hard won progress’ it has made in the fight against the deadly disease
French fury at quarantine exemption snub
France last night reacted with anger to Britain’s decision to place all visitors in a mandatory 14-day quarantine – saying it would now do the same to anyone arriving from the UK.
Amid a major backlash at the measures from business and airline groups, a French interior ministry spokesman said: ‘We take note of the British Government’s decision and we regret it.
‘France stands ready to put in place a reciprocity measure as soon as the system actually comes into force on the British side.’ France initially thought it had an exemption from the tough measures starting from June 8, but Home Secretary Priti Patel confirmed that this was not the case.
She said the UK needed to protect its ‘hard-won progress’ in the fight against Covid-19 and would not let a ‘reckless minority’ undermine it.
Everyone coming into Britain will have to give an address and phone number to public health officials.
There will be spot checks and anyone found to be breaking rules faces an initial fine of £1,000.
Her announcement comes against the backdrop of a mounting backlash from airlines and the wider business community with the aviation industry warning the move ‘makes no sense’ and could harm the UK’s economic recovery.
Virgin Atlantic has warned the quarantine requirement will mean passenger services cannot resume until August at the earliest and it has urged the government to rely on screening measures instead.
Some of the more specific details of the new system are not expected to be finalised until the House of Commons returns from its latest recess at the start of June.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps had previously raised the prospect of ‘air bridges’ being put in place at a later date in order to connect the UK to low-infection countries and allow Britons to head abroad on holiday.
The confirmation of the plans comes after Australia became the first country to push for an exemption. Australian PM Scott Morrison is believed to be seeking for his country to be left out of the curbs after it almost wiped out the virus.
Ms Patel’s announcement came as Britain announced 351 more coronavirus deaths, taking the official number of victims to 36,393.
The final details of the quarantine plans are expected to be finalised when the House of Commons returns following its latest recess at the start of June
SAGE experts warn ‘shock’ of school closures is blighting a generation
The government’s SAGE experts have warned the ‘shock’ of school closures are blighting a generation and suggested children are at low danger from coronavirus.
Evidence produced by the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies highlights the wider damage being caused to young people by the halt to their education.
Although they admit there is no certainty, a raft of papers suggest that children are less likely to be infected and infectious than adults, and teachers do not seem at heightened risk.
The documents, prepared in the weeks up to May 1, float the idea of splitting classes in half and having children attend schools alternate weeks, saying that could slash the effect on the coronavirus ‘R’ number.
Ministers hope publishing the documents will reassure the public about plans to start reopening schools from June 1.
But unions insisted the SAGE evidence was ‘inconclusive’ and demanded delay.
Speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference, Ms Patel said: ‘The answer as to why we are bringing these measures in now is simple. It is to protect that hard won progress and prevent a devastating resurgence in the second wave of the virus.
‘We are following the science and introducing public health measures that are supported by SAGE.
‘This will require international arrivals to self-isolate for 14 days, that is the incubation period of the virus, so that if people have become infected overseas we can limit the spread of the virus at home.
‘As we are taking this action we are taking it at a time when it will be the most effective.
‘Passenger arrivals have been down by 99 per cent compared to the previous year, 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.’
Ms Patel said that as the domestic rate of transmission continues to fall and the number of people coming to the UK rises, ‘imported cases could begin to pose a larger and increased threat’.
‘This is of course a different story from when domestic transmission was at its peak and when overseas travel was at an all time low,’ she added.
Ms Patel said she believed the ‘vast majority’ of people will ‘continue to act responsibly’ and comply with the latest lockdown rules.
Cyprus will ban British tourists from entering the country when it reopens on June 9
Cyprus will reopen its airports to commercial flights but British tourists will be banned from entering the country.
The phased reopening will initially allow passengers to fly to the small EU state from about 20 countries.
British tourists account for a third of all arrivals in Cyprus.
A second phase of easing restrictions will begin on June 20, the minister said after a cabinet meeting that agreed the measures.
During the first phase, visitors will need to have tested negative for coronavirus within 72 hours of arriving in Cyprus with a certificate to prove it.
Cypriot residents can take the test upon arrival in Cyprus and will have to self-isolate until the result is known.
But she warned: ‘We will not allow a small minority, a reckless minority to endanger us all so there will be penalties for those who break these mandatory measures.’
The devolved nations will be able to set their own enforcement approaches. Ms Patel said the Government will be ‘unafraid’ to increase the value of the initial fine if people flout the rules.
Critics responded to the announcement by demanding to know why ministers had not imposed such restrictions earlier on during the outbreak.
The SNP’s shadow home secretary Joanna Cherry QC said that ‘as usual the UK is behind the curve’ and other countries have had similar measures in place ‘for months’.
‘The UK is finally catching up only to find other countries are in the process of moving on,’ she said.
‘The result is that hundreds of thousands of people have already arrived in the UK without any public health measures in place at ports of entry, to the annoyance and bemusement of the British public.
‘Priti Patel needs to fully explain the scientific advice underlying her inaction to date and the action she now intends to take.’
Under the plans, travellers arriving at all ports and airports will be ordered to go into self-isolation for a fortnight and to provide an address and contact details.
They will not be allowed to accept visitors, unless they are providing essential support, and should not go out to buy food or other essentials ‘where they can rely on others’, the Home Office said.
There is likely to be a small number of exemptions for truck drivers and some other critical roles while transit passengers who do not formally enter the UK will also be exempt.
Public health officials are expected to conduct approximately 100 spot checks every day to ensure people are sticking to self-isolation. Those checks will start from the middle of June.
People who arrive in the UK without accommodation arranged will have to pay for Government-arranged accommodation themselves.
Despite Ms Patel insisting the policy will be reviewed every three weeks, Whitehall sources have played down hopes that the measures could be lifted before the summer holiday season.
Virgin Atlantic warned the plan would keep planes grounded.
‘The safety and security of our people and our customers is always our top priority and public health must come first,’ a spokeswoman said.
Airlines have urged the Government not to go ahead with the plans. They believe thermal imaging could be used instead to prevent the spread of the disease
‘However, by introducing a mandatory 14-day self-isolation for every single traveller entering the UK, the Government’s approach will prevent flights from resuming.
‘We are continually reviewing our flying programme and with these restrictions, there simply won’t be sufficient demand to resume passenger services before August at the earliest.’
The airline instead called on the Government to introduce a ‘multi-layered approach’ with targeted public health and screening measures to allow the safe restart of international travel.
The chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, Karen Dee, had earlier told the Home Affairs Select Committee that drastic reductions in passenger numbers ‘may simply lead to a prolonged shutdown of all aviation’.
A spokesperson for the Association of Independent Tour Operators told
‘In reality, quarantine should have been put in place right at the start of the pandemic, as our European neighbours did – we are now out of synch with them, as they emerge from quarantine and we go into it.’
Earlier this week, RyanAir CEO Michael O’Leary – who has previously been an outspoken critique of some measures proposed to limit the spread of the coronavirus – again called on Irish and UK governments to abandon quarantine restrictions.
‘We call again on the Irish and UK governments to abandon their unexplainable, ineffective, and unimplementable quarantine restrictions,’ he said.
Piers Morgan lead calls for transparency about why coronavirus carriers were able to fly into the UK in the first place.
He wrote: ‘Of all the inexplicable decisions this Govt has made during the coronavirus crisis, quarantining people who fly into the UK after 20 million people have already flown in and 62,000 people have already died is the most… inexplicable.’
Nigel Farage tweeted: ‘The government quarantine should have been three months ago, not now. Far too late.’
Ms Patel insisted the Government does ‘recognise how hard these changes will be for our travel sector’ and that ministers will work with the industry to find ‘new ways to reopen international travel and tourism in a safe and responsible way’.
A former head of Border Force said today he was ‘surprised’ quarantine measures had not been brought in at UK borders sooner.
Tony Smith, now chairman of the International Border Management and Technologies Association, told the Commons Home Affairs Committee today: ‘Yes I was surprised that we hadn’t seen earlier measures introduced at the UK border.’
Mr Shapps on Monday raised the idea of ‘air bridges’ with popular tourist destinations such as Spain.
Madrid yesterday signalled it might be prepared to welcome UK tourists from July without asking them to self-isolate for 14 days.
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said: ‘We need to find a way that the vast, vast, vast majority of people who don’t have a disease can still fly.’