Up to 12 March, the government’s advice was clear: anyone arriving from overseas was asked to isolate for two weeks. On 13 March that advice inexplicably changed.
Just as most European countries were closing their borders and introducing quarantines, the UK dropped any requirement for new arrivals to stay at home. The government has never told us why that advice was changed. What was the science behind removing the quarantine requirement?
Since then, amazingly, our borders have remained open throughout the peak of the pandemic, with no requirement for even a cursory check. Yet now that the peak of the pandemic has passed, the government has imposed a two-week quarantine on all arrivals in Britain. Why has it waited until now to impose a quarantine?
I recently spoke to a member of the Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) committee who confirmed that “The government is no longer following the science”.
Figures from UK Border Force reveal that between 1 January and lockdown on 23 March some 18.1 million people flew into the UK. No health checks were done on any of them.
In February alone 90,000 flew in from Milan and 100,000 from China. If entries by land and sea are included, 23.7 million people entered the UK, half of them Brits and EU nationals living in the UK returning home.
The government’s position is a complete muddle. Originally it was suggested that there should be an exemption for people arriving from France and then it became clear that this would just funnel all traffic through France.
The final and exceptionally long list of exemptions includes people arriving from Ireland even though Ireland will continue to impose a 14-day quarantine on arrivals from Britain.
The big question is how the policy will be enforced. The police have been given powers to conduct spot checks and issue fines for those breaking the rules, but as Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has said “there are not enough police to check up on the tens of thousands of daily arrivals”. Cressida Dick, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, has already said that she sees no role for her officers in policing it.
True, the polling, which determines more of this government’s handling of the lockdown than it will ever admit, suggests voters support the idea of locking down foreign nationals arriving at our airports and this is probably what caused Priti Patel to press on with this ridiculous policy.
But voters will think again when they realise that it also applies to them and that they must book a month off work in order to enjoy a two-week holiday.
The irony of all this is that on one day last week more people died of Covid-19 in the UK than in the rest of the EU combined. The UK has the highest R number in Europe meaning that if a person goes abroad for two weeks, upon their return they have a lower chance of being Covid-19 positive than if they had holidayed at home.
If we do not persuade the government to change this damaging, ill-thought-out policy, thousands of travel jobs will be lost, and Europe will be going on holiday in August while we British will be stuck at home.