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Eight days ago the UK’s Prime Minister appeared on national TV to address the nation and to update it on the direction the country would be taking as it attempts to emerge from lockdown. The country was hoping for clear messaging and a road map back to normality but, instead, it was presented with 15 minutes of waffle and ideas that had clearly not been thought through.
From a travel standpoint, a small but key element of the Prime Minister’s address was the announcement that the UK would be introducing a mandatory 14 day quarantine period on all travelers arriving into the UK by air (with the exception of visitors from Ireland). Sadly, for reasons best known to the government, no date was given for when the quarantine rules would come into force.
On the same day as the ministerial address, the UK and French governments issued a joint statement which said that no quarantine measures would apply to travelers arriving from France (link).
None of this made much sense as it left serious questions unanswered:
- Why just quarantine visitors arriving by air? Do visitors arriving by train and boat not pose a threat?
- Why give visitors from France an exception? As most EU citizens entering France do not have their passports checked, this exemption would mean that most EU citizens who could enter France would also be able to enter the UK under this exemption…so why not just say that all EU countries would be exempt from the quarantine rules?
- If visitors from France were to be given an exemption why wasn’t this mentioned in the ministerial broadcast? The exemption for Ireland was mentioned so why not France?
Last Monday morning, a little over 12 hours after the Prime Minister’s address, various government ministers and spokespeople were forced to clarify that the quarantine rules would not be limited to visitors arriving by air and that all modes of transport would be covered. This clearly leads to the question of who allowed the Prime Minister to go on national TV and get such a basic thing so wrong?
Who read that speech and didn’t wonder why visitors arriving by air were being singled out? It was the very first thing I wondered as I listened to the words coming out of Boris Johnson’s mouth so why did no one in government bring this up?
A few days later, we started to hear and read the first murmurings that perhaps there wouldn’t be an exemption for visitors from France after all, as unnamed sources close to the government began to brief the media that no such exemption existed (link). This was an unexpected move as the joint communique issued by the UK and French governments which confirmed the exemption was still on a government website (and is still there at the time of writing – I linked to it earlier)
On Friday it became clear that the UK government didn’t really know what it was doing (or saying) when statements coming from the Prime Minister’s office attempted to paint a picture of a world in which no exemption for visitors from France ever existed and that the two governments only agreed to work together (perhaps they should have read their own communique?) (link).
Now, as of Monday 18 May 2020, the UK government’s position is that there will only be “limited exemptions” to the quarantine policy (taken to mean that only freight drivers and possibly scientists will be exempt) but, if you’re reading this On Tuesday 19 May (or later) this may have already changed.
All in all, the past 8 days have seen the UK government’s messaging descend into farce as various ministers and government officials have either had to clarify what the Prime Minister or other officials have said, correct what the Prime Minister or other officials have said or simply deny that anyone said anything at all despite there being plenty of evidence to the contrary.
Leaving aside the fact that it’s hard to understand why the UK feels the need to impose a quarantine now when everyone and anyone has been allowed into the country since this crisis started, we’re still in a position where the UK government announced a major travel measure 8 days ago for which it still cannot (or will not) provide a firm start date. To say that this looks poorly thought through, rushed, and amateurish would be a colossal understatement.