Boris Johnson’s push for quarantine ‘will isolate UK as others emerge’

Charles Hymas
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Boris Johnson last night pushed ahead with his quarantine policy despite his chief scientific adviser declining to explicitly back the plan.

The Prime Minister faced criticism from the Tory backbenches, including the former Prime Minister Theresa May, for forcing “unnecessary economic isolation” on Britain with the policy, which was described by one airline boss as “shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted”.

Speaking as the quarantine plans were formally presented to Parliament, Ms May said there would be “no global Britain” without international air travel which was essential for trade.

She told MPs: “Instead of bringing in measures to close Britain off from the rest of the world, why is Britain not taking a lead in developing an international health screening standard to save jobs and ensure Britain is open for business?”

Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser also appeared to undermine the case for quarantine by saying it was most effective when it was imposed to prevent travel from high-risk countries to those with low rates.

Figures yesterday suggested Britain had more deaths from coronavirus, at 359, than the 27 other EU nations combined, at 324. 

Speaking at the daily news conference, however,  Mr Johnson said “imported cases” of the virus could trigger a second peak if people arriving from foreign countries did not quarantine, which will come into force on Monday.

"Now that we're getting the virus under control in the UK, there is a risk that cases from abroad begin once again to make up a greater proportion of overall cases. We therefore need to take steps now to manage that risk of these imported cases triggering a second peak,” he said.

Mr Johnson confirmed international talks were underway to agree “air bridges” with low-risk holiday destinations like Greece, Portugal and France so UK tourists could avoid the 14 day quarantine. But he refused to put a timescale on when people might be able to go abroad for a holiday.

Announcing the plans in the Commons, Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, came under intense pressure from senior Tory MPs to scrap, suspend or radically overhaul the policy.

Liam Fox, Tory former Cabinet minister, said he could not “get my head around the public health mental gymnastics” of this policy.

“If such a barrier was required, why was it not introduced earlier in the outbreak and if it is a contingency measure against a so-called second wave, why apply it to countries with a lower infection rate than we already have?” he asked.

"Surely the answer lies in the Government's test and trace system rather than unnecessary economic isolation."

Theresa Villiers, another Tory ex-Cabinet minister, urged Ms Patel to “suspend” the blanket for “just a few more weeks to get those safe air corridors in place so we can save jobs in aviation and let families go on their summer breaks in the sun?"

Former aviation minister Paul Maynard warned the “credibility of [the policy] is hanging by a very thin thread” after its battering by Tory and Labour MPs.

Sir Graham Brady, chair of the powerful 1922 committee, said tens of thousands of jobs would be lost if the airlines were unable to reopen their summer schedules.

He urged the Government to publish the criteria for “air bridge” and the list of countries to which they would fly “well before” the policy came up for review at the end of June.

Air passenger numbers into the UK have plummeted

Ms Patel acknowledged the requirements would present difficulties for the tourism industry but said they would be kept under regular review to ensure they remained "proportionate and necessary".

"We will all suffer if we get this wrong. That's why it's crucial that we introduce these measures now."

Ms Patel and Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, are due to hold a roundtable on Thursday to discuss the future of the industry where they are expected to face further criticism of the plan.

Ryanair described the UK's quarantine as "utterly ineffective", claiming people could be playing golf or lying on a beach or shopping in a supermarket when telephone checks were made.

 "Once they have arrived at their 'quarantine address', the UK Government will phone less than one per cent of these visitors but only on their mobile phone,” it said.

"For the UK to be imposing a 14-day quarantine on inbound visitors when it already has one of the worst Covid infection and death rates in Europe, is closing the door long after the horse has bolted.”

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Chief Executive of the Airport Operators Association Karen Dee said “blanket, untargeted quarantine” would devastate aviation and the economy, when other countries were exiting their quarantine with a “science-led, more risk-based approach.”

“The concept of “air bridges” must be looked at with urgency to allow travel to low-risk countries while protecting the public from high-risk arrivals.

“We urge the Government to devote the resource necessary to move to this more targeted, common-sense approach to international arrivals as soon as possible - as our competitors are doing.”

George Morgan-Grenville, chief executive of Red Savannah, who has led a campaign by more than 300 travel and hospitality businesses against the plans, said: “It is the wrong policy that is going to cause untold misery for hundreds of thousands of people who will now very likely be made redundant.”

The legislation, laid before Parliament, states people arriving in England must fill out a 'Passenger Locator Form' providing an address where they will self-isolate.

This can be their home, the home of a friend or relative, a hotel, hostel, bed and breakfast, or "other suitable" accommodation.

More than one address can be provided if a "legal obligation" requires a person to change addresses, or it is necessary for them to stay overnight on their arrival in England before "travelling directly to another address at which they will be self-isolating"