The United Kingdom has begun its mandatory 14-day quarantine restrictions for all new international arrivals entering its borders. But the new law has polarised the nation and especially the travel industry.
As of Monday 8 June, people arriving into the UK by plane, ferry or train – including UK nationals – will now be asked to provide an address where they must self-isolate for 14 days.
In what feels like a move that has been late in arriving itself, the government says ‘surprise visits’ will check people are following the seemingly unpractical rules with fines of up to AU$1800 for breaching the new restrictions.
At a briefing late last week, British home secretary Priti Patel said the measures were not the same as completely shutting the UK border to visitors saying: “We are not shutting down completely. We are not closing our borders.”
However, the move has faced widespread criticism from the UK travel industry with Victoria Bacon from ABTA, the travel industry trade body, telling the BBC that the government needs to come up with some “wider, more forward-thinking” strategies for the industry.
“There’s a whole range of support, not just financial, that the government can put in place to start helping the sector and we’ve heard very little from them. We really desperately need some help,”
Victoria Bacon, Director of Brand and Business Development at ABTA
More than 200 travel companies have asked for the new rules to be scrapped with Airlines UK saying it “will effectively kill air travel.”
Airlines UK, which represents the likes of British Airways, Easyjet, Virgin Atlantic and Ryanair, said a quarantine would “completely shut off the UK from the rest of the world when other countries are opening up their economies.”
Meanwhile, Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has said the new quarantine laws are “non-scientific”.
Asked whether Ryanair would cancel July and August flights if the quarantine remained in place during those months, outspoken O’Leary said: “No, because the flights are full outbound of the UK. British people are ignoring this quarantine, they know it’s rubbish.”
“Ryanair is operating a thousand daily flights to points all over Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece from the first of July, the second, the third and every day after that.”
Asked about the prospect of foreign holidays this summer, the home secretary added: “This is absolutely not about booking holidays. We want to avoid a second wave and that is absolutely vital.”
So-called “air-bridges” or agreements with countries that have low infection rates allowing tourists to travel without quarantining similar to the Trans-Tasman bubble – will not be in place initially, the government said.
With more and more countries in Europe and beyond reopening their borders for the summer from this month, the concern from the UK travel industry is that they will lose out on what’s left of an already holiday decimated season due to COVID-19.
According to The Guardian, many of the first travellers arriving into Heathrow Airport today were already confused by the new restrictions saying they were asked to fill in the online forms but evidence to prove the information was correct was not required.
Some passengers said they were also surprised by the lack of physical screening for COVID-19 with Fiona Gathright, 59, who had travelled from Washington DC saying:
“They didn’t even do a temperature check at either end, not in Washington before we got on the flight and not in London when we got off the flight,” she said. “Somebody could have been on the flight with a 100-plus temperature and gotten off and gone on their merry way.”
The government says the new measure will be reviewed every three weeks.
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