Priti Patel seeks to head off row over quarantine with future pledge to ease restrictions through 'testing' and 'air bridges'

Charles Hymas
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Priti Patel raised the prospect of quarantine being lifted through “air bridges” and testing, even as she announced the travel curbs will come into force on June 8.

The Home Secretary pledged to have a “plethora of tools” to re-open the borders in a “safe and sensible way,'  as she pledged reviews of the measures  every three weeks.

She said the Government would look at “all options” including air bridges negotiated with nations with low coronavirus transmission rates. But she singled out the planned test, track and trace strategy as key to lifting quarantine. 

“We want to have a plethora of tools that can effectively support these measures of quarantining but also post these measures help us look at how we can in this measured and responsible way open society,” she told the daily Downing Street news conference.

From June 8, all arrivals to the UK including returning Britons will have to fill in an online form up to 48 hours before flying giving their contact details, passport number and UK accommodation where they will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.

If on arrival they have not, they will have one last chance but continued failure to do so will result in a £100 fine, which could multiply up to £3,200.

Refusal to hand over personal details once fined could lead to arrest and foreign visitors who refuse to fill in the forms could be denied entry to the UK.

People who arrive without a place to stay will have to pay for Government-arranged accommodation for the 14 days.

Anyone breaching the two-week self-isolation faces £1,000 fixed penalty or prosecution with an unlimited fine, although Scotland is expected to set it at £60 to stay in line with penalties for breaches of lockdown regulations.

The regulations, introduced as part of the health protection act, will be laid before Parliament with a 28-day window MPs can object to force a vote on the proposals.

Arrivals from the common travel area including Ireland and the Channel Islands will be exempted as will the 12,000 road haulage and freight workers who bring food, medical and other vital supplies into the UK.

Also exempted are medical professionals travelling to help the coronavirus effort and seasonal agricultural workers who will self-isolate on the property they are working.

Paul Lincoln, Director General Border Force, said elite sports including Formula One were not exempt but the Government was keeping it under review “to see if there is a way in which sports events can be done safely with right measures in place.”

Mr Lincoln also left open the possibility that such “air bridges” could be negotiated by the first of those at the end of June, saying he could “not rule in or out” such a possibility.

Greece, Italy, France and Spain have suggested they would be prepared to negotiate such agreements, first mooted by Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, but previously met with scepticism by the Home Office, Foreign Office and Downing Street.

Enforcement of the quarantine will be heavily reliant on trust, with Border Force officials only conducting "spot checks" on passengers arriving at UK ports and airports.

Officials said that if there was a high number of passengers failing to fill in forms, they would increase the number of spot checks.

Arrivals will be advised to use personal rather than public transport to reach their accommodation and once there they will not be allowed to accept visitors, unless they are providing essential support, and should not go out to buy food or other essentials "where they can rely on others.”

Arrivals will also be strongly advised to download the NHS contact tracing app at the border "once rolled out nationally".

Public Health England officials backed up by private contractors will check if people abide by the self-isolation, initially by phoning them and asking a series of questions.

If, as a result, they suspect a breach, police officers will “in extremis” be sent to their addresses where they could be fined. Police have been told it is likely to be just 100 homes a day.

Removal from the country will be considered as a last resort for foreign nationals who refuse to comply.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT QUARANTINE

Can I go abroad?

Yes, although you will have to abide by the quarantine on your return where you will be expected to self-isolate for 14 days. The Foreign Office guidance on non-essential travel abroad still stands.

Would I be exempt if I had a test showing I was clear of coronavirus?

No, only a “very limited” group of people are exempt including freight drivers, seasonal vegetable and fruit pickers, medical specialists and others listed by the Home Office. People from Common Travel area countries including Ireland are exempt.

What do I need to do before returning to the country?

You need to use the Home Office’s online “contact locator form” to fill in your travel plans, your accommodation address in the UK where you will self-isolate, your passport number and contact details.

What if I fail to do that?

You risk a £100 fine, multiplied up to £3,200 for failure to pay. Border Force officials will be conducting spot checks at ports and airports and stop people to check they have filled in the form. If you are stopped and have not filled it in, you will have one last chance to do so. If you continue to refuse to hand over your personal details after being fined, you could be arrested.

How do I get home?

The Home Office is advising people to use personal transport like a car but it recognises some may not be able to do so and may have to use public transport.

What happens if I don’t self-isolate?

You face a £1,000 fine and potentially unlimited if it proceeds to prosecution. There will be spot checks where you could be contacted by phone by Public Health England officials who will ask you a series of questions about your self-isolation. If their suspicions are raised, police will be sent to your address to investigate.

Does this mean that my chances of a Summer holiday abroad without quarantine are dashed?

It appears increasingly likely, certainly for early and mid Summer. The quarantine is due to come into effect on June 8 and will be reviewed every three weeks, meaning the first will be on June 29. The Government has left open the possibility of negotiating “air bridges” with countries with low coronavirus rates where travellers both ways would be exempt from quarantine. However, there are deep divisions in Government over the practicability of such “air bridges” which have yet to be resolved.