As airline, ferry firms and holiday companies prepare for the impact of the UK’s first global quarantine scheme, Tory MPs are stepping up their campaign against the measures.
From 8 June, most people arriving at UK airports, ferry ports and international rail terminals will be required to self-isolate at home for 14 days. As this will affect returning holidaymakers, travel sales for the summer have dried up.
Quarantine has been championed by the prime minister’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, and the home secretary, Priti Patel. The plan is also backed by the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab.
But other cabinet ministers and many MPs are furious at the damage the measures will do to Britain’s airlines and the wider travel industry, just as they were planning to start up for the summer.
The policy means travellers arriving from nations such as Australia, Cuba and Greece, which have hardly any Covid-19 cases, will be presumed to be infected with coronavirus and made to go into what amounts to solitary confinement for two weeks.
Meanwhile more than two million British citizens will be exempt from quarantine because of their jobs. The Independent has revealed that bus drivers, dentists and police officers are among many professions that will be able to side-step the measures.
Formula One teams are also expected to be granted exemption from the 14-day self-isolation rules.
There have been widespread concerns about enforcement of the measures, with the Metropolitan Police Federation warning that officers do not have the time to check on travellers who’ve arrived into the UK.
On the BBC’s Today programme, the former transport minister, Stephen Hammond, said: “What is the point of doing it? Either you believe that these measures seriously will lower the risk of transmission, and I think the medical and scientific evidence I have looked at is equivocal on that … or you look at a more targeted response.”
Opponents say the scheme should be neutralised by the introduction “air bridges” or “travel corridors” – a series of bilateral deals between the UK and key destinations that allow quarantine-free movement in both directions.
Boris Johnson is said to be “personally in favour” of such arrangements, and early in May actually discussed an Anglo-French agreement with President Macron.
Airlines have drawn up a list of 45 countries with which they want air bridge agreements. They cover the vast majority of arrivals to the UK, including the US – which has the world’s highest number of Covid-19 infections and deaths.
Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, Lisa Nandy, retweeted The Independent’s article about quarantine, adding: “Ministers delayed quarantine for months as hundreds of thousands of people flew into the UK, only finally introducing measures as holidays approach.
“Now they’re hoping air bridges might help us. But we’re seen as a high-risk country. What a total shambles.”
Richard Ballantyne, chief executive of the British Ports Association, has called for “sea bridges,” saying: “Quarantine rules could slow recovery and kill off any opportunity of a summer recovery for passenger travel and tourism.
“Ministers must put exemptions in place for other transit corridors such as France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain.”
But the housing minister, Simon Clarke, told BBC Breakfast: “This is a proportionate step to minimise the risk of bringing new cases into society.
“It’s absolutely vital … we do this as long as required.”