Air passenger quarantine plan makes no sense, UK adviser says

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Air passengers are facing mandatory quarantine on arrival to avert a new wave of infections as lockdown measures are eased. Boris Johnson told the nation on Sunday: “To prevent reinfection from abroad, I am serving notice that it will soon be the time – with transmission significantly lower – to impose quarantine on people coming into this country by air.”

The measures, set to be introduced at the end of the month, will reportedly see air passengers asked to provide an address where they will self-isolate for 14 days, with spot checks and fines for breaches – but will not apply to sea or rail arrivals.

The source told the Guardian the plans would only reduce risk if the UK had lower rates of infection than the countries from which passengers were arriving, which is no longer the case for most nations in the European Union.

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Speaking anonymously, the government adviser said: “There was really no scientific advice to inform the latest announcement. It also doesn’t really make sense for countries which have lower per capita current Covid case numbers than us; for example, most of the EU.

“That sort of policy only reduces risk in the situation where we have very low case numbers and origin countries have much higher numbers.”Advertisement

Britain’s aviation and tourism industries warned that the quarantine plan risks worsening the economic impact of Covid-19. A letter signed by the chief executives of easyJet, Heathrow and Gatwick voiced “collective and serious concern and frustration”, adding: “An open-ended quarantine, with no set end date, will make an already critical situation for UK aviation, and all the businesses we support, even worse.”

There has been mounting scrutiny of UK border controls in the run-up to the crisis. It emerged that 18.1m people arrived in the UK by land, sea and air between 1 January and 23 March and only 273 were formally quarantined.

Until 13 March the government advised incoming passengers from specific hotspot countries, including Italy, Iran and parts of China, to self-isolate, but this was dropped – “inexplicably”, according to Yvette Cooper, the chair of the home affairs select committee.

Since then, the government has relied on posters and leaflets to keep new arrivals informed. In April, with flight routes cut and a call to end all but essential travel, at least 95,000 people entered the UK.

Asked if an enforced quarantine policy would have had more impact before the lockdown, the senior adviser said: “Everyone was unaware of the extent to which the virus had been seeded into Spain and Italy until those outbreaks started resulting in large numbers of hospital cases. At which point Spain and Italy were added to the list of countries for which traveller surveillance was in force.