Government could loosen quarantine rules after backlash
The government is exploring means to relax its mandatory 14-day quarantine rule for new arrivals entering the UK from June 8.
The rule will require most people entering the country to self-isolate, including UK citizens. Those instructed to do so must inform the government where they will be quarantined and will be subject to spot checks from health authorities. Non-compliance could result in heavy fines.
However, the government has faced backlash from MPs and the travel and hospitality industries over the plans and the knock-on effect it will have on businesses and the economy.
Home secretary Priti Patel is due to put the quarantine arrangements before Parliament this week, having said when announcing the scheme that it will "reduce the risk of cases crossing our border".
Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 committee of backbench Conservative MPs, is one opponent of the quarantine, and called it “senseless” to “introduce a blanket quarantine, including for those travelling from countries with very low or no Covid-19 infection.”
Brady added that the government would do well to allow concessions for countries with low rates of infection, and that plans to test people at UK airports should be considered as an alternative approach.
Meanwhile, over 290 business leaders from the travel and hospitality sectors have written to Patel and urged the government to axe the policy completely. Airline chiefs have also confirmed that they have “serious reservations” over a “blanket” quarantine policy for all arrivals.
In the wake of the fierce response to the plans, the Financial Times reports that Downing Street is looking for a route around the quarantine, with the potential for “air bridges” to be established between the UK and countries with low rates of infection, meaning arrivals from those nations would not need to self-isolate.
People of certain professions, such as lorry drivers, police officers, seasonal farm workers, and healthcare professionals are already exempt from the rule, and the government could look to add to that list. Any individuals travelling from the Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are also exempt.
Extra guidance surrounding the current plans in expected to be come clear in Parliament this week, including around whether new arrivals can use public transport to reach their accommodation of choice for their self-isolation period.
The quarantine regulations will be reviewed every three weeks, with the first coming at the end of June.
Over the weekend, former environment secretary Theresa Villiers told BBC Radio Four that the government was “actively looking at air bridges”, and that she believed the quarantine should apply only to flights coming from countries with higher infection rates.
The news comes as the latest Office for National Statistics figure show that weekly deaths linked to Covid-19 have hit their lowest levels since March, with 2,589 coronavirus deaths recorded for the week ending May 22, the lowest weekly number for seven weeks.
The number of people in the UK who have died after testing positive for Covid-19 stands at 39,045.