Ministers ‘looking at ways to relax travel quarantine rule’
The government is looking at ways to relax the 14-day quarantine rule for people entering the UK over the coming months.
From Monday, most people arriving by plane, ferry or train – including UK nationals – must self-isolate. But some MPs and businesses have expressed concern at the plan, warning it will damage the travel industry.
One government source told BBC Newsnight that ministers were looking at ways around the coronavirus quarantine. This could include expanding the list of workers who are exempt from the 14-day rule, or travel corridors to countries with low infection rates, which the government has previously said it was considering.
Any changes would be guided by the science but one possible date for a relaxation to the rule could be 20 July, coinciding with school holidays, Newsnight was told.
The quarantine measures come into force on 8 June, although some professions are exempt, such as lorry drivers, police officers, seasonal farm workers, and healthcare professionals.
Also exempt will be people coming from the Irish Republic, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.
Travellers will have to tell the UK government where they will be staying and if they do not provide an address, officials will arrange accommodation.
In England, there will be random spot checks and £1,000 fines, while governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can impose their own penalties.
Housing minister Simon Clarke told BBC Breakfast that the quarantine policy was “a proportionate step” which would minimise the risk of new cases coming into the UK “just at the time that we are getting a grip on it”.
He said it was a “temporary, time-limited measure”, but added that it was “vital” it was introduced for as long as required.
The plan is expected to be set out in more detail when it is laid before Parliament this week. MPs are returning to Westminster on Tuesday after weeks of proceedings taking place virtually.
Extra guidance about what arrivals would be allowed to do is also expected to be set out, including that travellers will be allowed to take public transport if they are unable to get to their accommodation by any other means.
The quarantine plan is due to be reviewed every three weeks, with the first review due at the end of June.
Announcing the plan last month, Home Secretary Priti Patel said the measure would “reduce the risk of cases crossing our border”.
But there has been criticism from some of the government’s own MPs as well as the travel and aviation industry.
One former cabinet minister told Newsnight the idea was “daft” and suggested the government will not “go to the stake on this”.
Meanwhile, more than 200 business leaders have called on the government to scrap the policy, saying it was “deeply worrying for our economy and our country”.
The group of firms – including hotel The Ritz and upmarket travel agent Kuoni – want the government to instead introduce “air bridges”, an arrangement which would allow visitors from low-risk countries into the UK without having to quarantine for 14 days.
Last month, the bosses of airlines including EasyJet, Tui, Jet2 and Virgin Atlantic also said they had “serious reservations” about a “blanket approach” to all arrivals into Britain.
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At the weekend, former environment secretary Theresa Villiers told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour she thought quarantine rules should be targeted on flights “from Covid hotspots”.
She also said the government was “actively looking at air bridges”.
BBC transport correspondent Tom Burridge said reports in the Portuguese media “suggest an air bridge with Portugal is on the cards”.
But, he added, the UK is behind other countries in Europe in terms of controlling the virus and so, in negotiations, “the ball might not be in the UK’s court”.
Spain’s tourism minister said British coronavirus figures “still have to improve” before the country would receive tourists from the UK, while Greece will not allow UK visitors when it opens up later this month.