A High Court challenge by three airlines against the 14-day quarantine rule for passengers arriving in the UK has been abandoned after the Government announced a lifting of restrictions for travellers from some countries.
British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair took legal action against Health Secretary Matt Hancock over measures they said would have a “severe impact on the travel and tourism industry”, which was “already running on fumes”.
On Friday afternoon, their barrister Tom Hickman QC said the airlines had “reached agreement” to withdraw their claim on the basis that the Government will publish the list of countries the restrictions will not apply to, which is said to be happening “imminently”.
The Government has announced that quarantine restrictions for people returning to or visiting England from destinations such as Spain, France, Italy and Germany will be lifted from July 10.
Around 60 countries and overseas territories are on the Government’s initial list for lifting quarantine restrictions, which will be published later on Friday.
Opening the airlines’ case earlier on Friday, Tom Hickman QC said it was “extraordinary” that the Government imposed the quarantine despite being advised that it would have “no material impact whatsoever on the level of Covid-19 transmission in the UK”.
He told the court: “There was no scientific advice and no evidence before the Secretary of State that the imposition of a 14-day quarantine on arrivals to the UK would protect public health to any extent, let alone that there was a danger to public health caused by aircraft and vessels arriving in the UK in early June 2020.”
Mr Hickman said the chief medical officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty, advised the Government that a 14-day quarantine “would have ‘a useful impact on the epidemic’ only ‘once the UK is at low levels’ of transmission”.
The barrister added that, as the UK Covid-19 transmission level at that time was “high” and “remains significant”, Prof Whitty’s advice was that “quarantine measures would have no useful impact”.
Mr Hickman said that “the only remaining explanation for the measures identified in the documents filed by the Government is that the quarantine measures would contribute to ‘wider public confidence’ in the Government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis more generally”, which was “not a legitimate basis” for imposing them.
In written submissions, the Government’s barrister Sir James Eadie QC said the quarantine was “part of a range of public health measures adopted by the Government and across the UK which are aimed at mitigating the serious and imminent threat to life posed by the Covid-19 pandemic”.
Sir James said that “the prevalence of the infection has decreased significantly from its peak, and currently continues to decline”, but added: “The situation nevertheless remains dangerous.”
He said: “The requirement to self-isolate for 14 days is founded on medical advice about how best to prevent transmission of the disease.
“The question of whether to apply the self-isolation measure to people arriving from all countries, or to exclude people arriving from some countries with low levels of Covid-19, has been the subject of very careful consideration by the Government.”
Most international arrivals into the UK – including returning Britons – have been required to enter a 14-day quarantine since June 8.
All passengers – bar a handful of exemptions – have to fill out an online locator form giving their contact and travel details, as well as the address of where they will isolate.
People who fail to comply could be fined £1,000 in England and police are allowed to use “reasonable force” to make sure they follow the rules.