British holidaymakers could face a £1,000 penalty or even an unlimited fine if they fail to self-isolate for 14 days after arriving in the UK under new public health measures.
Arrivals to the country will be “contacted regularly” during the two week period under the Government’s new policy, which is due to come into force on June 8.
The scheme will be in place across the UK, but the devolved administrations will set their own enforcement measures. The plan will be reviewed every three weeks.
Home Secretary Priti Patel announced the scheme at Friday’s daily briefing, some details of which were revealed by the Telegraph on May 21.
All arrivals to the country would also be required to complete an information form “to provide contact and travel information so they can be contacted if they, or someone they may have been in contact with, develops the disease.” Failure to complete the form is punishable by a £100 fixed penalty notice. However, it is unclear if there will be any further punishment should a British citizen refuse to fill in the form.
Border Force will undertake checks at the UK border and may refuse entry to any non-British citizen who refuses to comply with these regulations and isn’t resident in the country.
Mrs Patel said: “As the world begins to emerge from what we hope is the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, we must look to the future and protect the British public by reducing the risk of cases crossing our border.
“We are introducing these new measures now to keep the transmission rate down and prevent a devastating second wave.
“I fully expect the majority of people will do the right thing and abide by these measures. But we will take enforcement action against the minority of people who endanger the safety of others.”
The Government said it is continuing to look at further options for international travel. These include "air bridges" – agreements between countries with similar transmission rates to recognise the other nation's passenger departure screening measures and remove the need for quarantine measures for incoming passengers.
The “air bridges” scheme was mooted by the Government earlier this week.
UK arrivals from the Common Travel Area, including Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, would be exempt from the 14-day quarantine, alongside a very limited group of up to 30 professions or jobs, including freight drivers and medical professionals.
Anyone else arriving in the UK by plane, ferry or train would be required to provide border officials with an address where they will self isolate.
Before the scheme comes into force, UK holidaymakers are still advised against all but essential travel by the Foreign Office (FCO). While travelling against FCO advice would invalidate most insurance policies, Britons who choose to travel abroad at this time cannot be prosecuted for doing so.
Below, we look at the potential consequences of flouting the 14-day quarantine rules after arriving in the UK and what happens if you take a foreign holiday against FCO advice.
What are the chances of being caught flouting the quarantine rules?
Given the potential for a significant fine, it would not be advisable to defy the proposed measures. However, the Government has not given specific details on how carefully the rules would be enforced. It merely states that passengers arriving in the UK and subject to the 14-day rule “could be contacted regularly throughout this period” and that “public health authorities will conduct random checks in England to ensure compliance with self-isolation requirements”. It is not clear as yet if the devolved administrations will also contact those self-isolating or carry out checks.
Prior to Friday’s daily briefing, it was suggested that 100 home visits could be carried out each day, across the UK. If air travel was at normal capacity, the chances of being caught flouting the rules would be very slim. In 2019, UK-based airlines flew almost 153.7 million passengers. This suggests 76.9 million return journeys, so a little over 210,000 daily passengers. Under these numbers, the odds of being found breaking the rules are one in over 2,000. That is before you factor in arrivals by ferry or train.
Of course, the UK lockdown and the FCO advice against all non-essential travel - issued on March 17 - has slashed passenger numbers. The Civil Aviation Authority’s latest full passenger number report is for March. Despite the FCO advice only being in place for a portion of this month, numbers were much reduced - 2.4 million, compared to 14.9 million in March 2019. This suggests 1.2 million return journeys in March and an average of 38,700 daily passengers. The odds of being caught breaking quarantine rules under these figures are one in almost 400. Of course, April’s passenger figures will show a further decline in air travel.
To enforce its quarantine measures effectively, the Government would need to increase the number of daily spot checks.
Will I still be able to fly?
Yes, if your flight goes ahead. The FCO advice is in place to help Britons make informed decisions about travel abroad and there is no suggestion that ignoring this advice would lead to a prosecution. However, the quarantine measures will, of course, impact demand for air travel to and from the UK.
Virgin Atlantic, for example, has said that the 14-day self-isolation period will delay the resumption of services. "By introducing a mandatory 14-day self isolation for every single traveller entering the UK, the government’s approach will prevent flights from resuming," the airline’s spokesperson said.
Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary earlier branded the 14-day quarantine plan "idiotic". On May 18, Mr O’Leary told BBC Radio 4: "It is idiotic and it is unimplementable. This is the same Government that has mismanaged the crisis for many weeks.”
The budget carrier is due to resume around 40 per cent of its flights on July 1, if restrictions on travel within the EU are lifted.
EasyJet has said it will restart flight routes it considers will be profitable - mainly domestic flights in the UK and France - from June 15.
What are tour operators saying?
A spokesperson for the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) told Telegraph Travel: "As with so many Government 'initiatives', the 14-day quarantine rule comes across as a bit of a stab in the dark, quite possibly to be changed as quickly as it was introduced, as with the mooted air bridges.
“In reality, quarantine should have been put in place right at the start of the pandemic, as our European neighbours did – we are now out of synch with them, as they emerge from quarantine and we go into it.
“It certainly doesn’t, on the face of it, help the outbound travel industry in terms of giving consumers confidence to travel once flights are again available and once the FCO lifts its blanket ban on travel outside the UK.”
Meanwhile, ABTA, a UK travel trade association for tour operators and travel agents, said: “Quarantine measures or other proposals for exiting the current lockdown must be part of a wider strategy, which is regularly reviewed, including consideration of the FCO’s travel advice, and based on scientific advice to protect public health.
“There will be pent up demand for holidays which for many of us are an important part of our lives, and it would be helpful if the Government could indicate its criteria for the transition from the current FCO advice against non-essential global travel to the re-opening of travel to destinations.”
What is the FCO advice on foreign travel?
On March 17, the FCO issued advice against non-essential travel for at least 30 days. It was the first time it has issued such a blanket advisory to British tourists, warning against travel from the UK to anywhere in the world.
This effectively put overseas holiday plans on hold as travelling against FCO advice invalidates virtually all travel insurance policies. The advice was extended, indefinitely, on April 5.
The FCO told Telegraph Travel: “Our Travel Advice is clear. We advise against all but essential international travel due to the Coronavirus pandemic”.
Its website states: “Any country or area may restrict travel without notice. If you live in the UK and are currently travelling abroad, you are strongly advised to return now, where and while there are still commercial routes available. Many airlines are suspending flights and many airports are closing, preventing flights from leaving.”
What is non-essential travel?
There is no official Government definition of essential and non-essential travel. Travel that is urgent and critical is likely to fall under “essential.”
However, holidays are unlikely to be considered essential by travel insurers and therefore travelling against Government advice is likely to invalidate your insurance, according to the Association of British Insurers (ABI).
Anthony Baker, President of the Forum of Insurance Lawyers and Partner at Plexus Law, told Telegraph Travel: “Examples of essential travel might be for necessary urgent medical treatment abroad, to attend family funerals or for health workers."
What if I travel abroad against the FCO advice?
You will be travelling without insurance. If you were to require medical treatment while abroad in an EU country and have a EHIC card you will be entitled to free or low-cost treatment under that country’s health system. Some destinations have added further detail to this. In Portugal, for example, residents pay €5 a day if hospitalised, and the country has said UK nationals would pay the same.
Those travelling outside of the EU would have to pay for their own treatment. If commercial flights are cancelled, or anything else goes wrong, travellers would have to pay the costs of repatriation.
What other restrictions might travellers be subject to?
Countries around the world are easing lockdown measures. However, foreign visitors may be denied entry or be subject to quarantine rules in their destination country. France is not admitting overseas visitors for the foreseeable future. Those granted entry must self-isolate for two weeks. Spain’s borders are also closed to most British travellers (exceptions include those who hold a green residency permit; who are a legally recognised spouse, partner or dependent child of a Spanish national or whose work requires them to travel to the country - diplomats, for instance). Since May 15, all arrivals to Spain will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.
The outlook in other popular EU holiday destinations looks a little more positive. Italy plans to reopen to some international tourists on June 3. International flights to Greek tourist islands will be permitted to restart from July 1. The nation's Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on May 20 that visitors would not be required to self-isolate but would be subject to coronavirus testing.
Other destinations could remain off limits for longer. The US, for example, has recorded the highest number of Covid-19 cases worldwide and those who have travelled to the UK, Ireland, the Schengen zone, Iran or China in the previous 14 days are still unable to cross US borders. The Indonesian government has said Bali may be able to reopen to tourists in October.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Jacinda Arden said that it would be a “long time” until New Zealand’s borders were open to foreign visitors.