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For the past few days, there have been rumors going around that the UK government was considering implementing Australia-style mandatory hotel quarantine measures on international travelers as the country tries to stop the inflow of new variants of the coronavirus. Today, the UK’s Prime Minister and Home Secretary both confirmed that such measures are on their way.
What Was Announced Today
In a statement to the UK’s House of Commons earlier today, Home Secretary Priti Patel confirmed that the UK would be introducing a new “managed isolation process” for international travelers but failed to give any details about what this isolation process would look like and how it would work. Ms. Patel told the Commons that the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) would “set out further details on this approach next week”.
The Home Secretary also went on to say that the government believes that there are too many people arriving into the UK from abroad and that there are too many UK residents currently flouting the laws and traveling abroad on vacation when the rules clearly state that overseas leisure travel is forbidden.
In a statement given to the House of Commons ahead of the Home Secretary, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the following:
“We have also banned all travel from 22 countries where there is a risk of known variants including South Africa, Portugal, and South American nations and in order to reduce the risk posed by UK nationals and residents returning home from these countries, I can announce that we will require all such arrivals who cannot be refused entry to isolate in Government provided accommodation, such as hotels, for 10 days without exception”
“I want to make clear that under the stay-at-home regulations it is illegal to leave home to travel abroad for leisure purposes and we will enforce this at ports and airports by asking people why they are leaving and instructing them to return home if they do not have a valid reason to travel”
In her later statement, Ms. Patel said that passengers wishing to travel out of the UK will be required to make a declaration stating why they are traveling (a declaration that carriers will be expected to check prior to departure) and that ports and airports would see an increased police presence as the government looks to clamp down on people in breach of the current lockdown rules.
What We Know
Because the UK government likes to do a lot of its work through the media, we already had a very good idea of what the new “managed isolation process” will look like and who it will affect.
Contrary to the requests from the opposition parties and, if the rumors are to be believed, the wishes of the Home Secretary, the UK will not be imposing mandatory hotel quarantines on all international arrivals into the UK. Instead, a 10-day hotel quarantine will be imposed on arrivals from what the UK is calling “red list” countries which, at the time of writing, include the following:
- Cape Verde
- Democratic Republic of Congo
- French Guiana
- Portugal (including Madeira and the Azores)
- South Africa
Travel from these countries is already banned for most people, so the only travelers likely to be affected by the new hotel quarantine rules are expected to be legal residents of the UK or British or Irish National returning home who, for legal reasons, cannot be prevented from entering the country.
There will be no exceptions to this new quarantine policy and anyone subjected to the 10-day hotel quarantine will not be allowed to use the UK’s ‘Test To Release’ program to cut short their quarantine period.
The first thing to note is that, yet again, the UK government has made an announcement about international travel without being in a position to give us all the details of what is on the way. The government did this with the announcement of the original quarantine rules last summer, it did it when it announced that travel corridors would be introduced, and it did it again earlier this month when it announced that a pre-departure testing requirement would be introduced. At best this looks amateurish, at worst this is staggering incompetence.
As far as what we know so far goes, I have to admit that I’m conflicted when it comes to the proposed new mandatory quarantine.
On the one hand (and from a purely selfish point of view) I don’t really want to see a requirement for all incoming travelers to have to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days as that would interfere with a business trip that I have planned for March. I’m more than happy to quarantine upon my return but I’d rather not have to do it in some soul-destroying hotel just outside of Heathrow.
On the other hand, I don’t see the point of the government trying to guess from which countries travelers will be importing the next mutated strain of coronavirus, and although this is clearly something that should have been done nine or ten months ago, I think a blanket quarantine requirement for all incoming travelers would achieve the government’s stated aims a lot more effectively.
Leaving aside the subject of which travelers should be subject to a mandatory hotel quarantine, it continues to be very concerning to see just how slowly the UK government reacts to a changing landscape. The rumors of a mandatory hotel quarantine rule have been around for at least a week (the rumors were started because of ongoing internal government discussions) and yet the Home Secretary can’t promise us any details until next week, and then, apparently, it will take “a few weeks” to implement the proposals. Why? Why all these delays? Why don’t we have a short and defined time frame yet?
As I’ve said before, this is a government that waited too long to introduce quarantine rules last summer, a government that failed to enforce its quarantine rules effectively, a government that waited too long to introduce stricter social distancing rules last November, a government that waited too long to lock London down in December, a government that waited too long to tell everyone that they shouldn’t mix households at Christmas, and a government that waited too long to tell parents not to send their kids back to school at the start of January.
This is a government that has been late on pretty much everything other than the vaccine rollout (which, admittedly, appears to be going very well), and that’s simply not good enough.
Right now, and with reference to the incoming mandatory hotel quarantine rules, I’d have a lot more respect for this government if the Prime Minister would stand up and say something like this:
“Ok, we clearly haven’t acted quickly enough or effectively enough so far, so the only hope we have of getting life back to normal is to ban all travel in or out of the country, to double our efforts to vaccinate the population and to focus all our energies on eliminating the virus strains that are already with us. While we’re still allowing people to travel, we’re essentially playing whack-a-mole with the virus and we don’t have the resources to do that”.
A statement like that wouldn’t change my opinion of the government’s handling of the pandemic, but I’d appreciate the honesty and the decision to stop doing everything in half-measures. Half measures haven’t worked very well so far (100,000 dead is a testament to that) so why would we expect them to work now?
Next week, the UK will unveil new rules which will require travelers arriving from select countries to quarantine at government-selected hotels at their own expense. We don’t have official confirmation of how the new rules will work or when they will be implemented but they’re expected to include a minimum quarantine period of 10 days with no option to cut that period short with testing.