As the obligation for all travellers to the UK to self-isolate begins to ease, there is widespread confusion about what the rules mean – and the differences between the nations of the UK.
This is the latest picture.
What is the basic rule?
Anyone arriving in the UK – by air, sea or rail – must go straight home or to another suitable location and remain there until one minute past midnight on the 14th day following the date of arrival.
Someone arriving in the UK on 15 July would need to stay at home until 12.01am on 30 July.
The “early-release” concession was announced by Grant Shapps when he was interviewed on BBC Breakfast on 3 July about the easing of quarantine.
When asked about people who had been travelling to countries that are on the no-quarantine list, the transport secretary said: “It’s very important to stress the quarantine does exist until 10 July.
“From that point onward you will be legal not to quarantine yourself.”
The Foreign Office then confirmed this in a response to an enquirer on Twitter, saying: “If you arrive before the 10th, you must observe self isolation up until the 10th.” Travellers were told that the information at gov.uk would be clarified to this effect.
But the Home Office now insists that the exact opposite applies, at least in England: the rules prevailing on the date of arrival must be followed.
The Independent has asked the Department for Transport (DfT), which administers the exemption list for England, for a response to the people who planned their travels on the basis of Mr Shapps’ words – and the Foreign Office advice.
What if I change planes or just drive through a country that is not on the exempt list?
You are still obliged to self-isolate, even if you were just changing planes – for example in Dubai between Japan and the UK – or made a brief visit from Vienna across the border to the Slovakian capital, Bratislava.
Anyone who has “departed from or transited through a non-exempt country or territory” is subject to quarantine – unless your plane made only a “technical stop” for refuelling with no new passengers coming on board, or you drove through the country (eg a corner of Portugal) without stopping.
I don’t want to quarantine when I get home. Can I get my money back from the airline, the holiday firm or travel insurance?
In general, no; that would be classed as “disinclination to travel”.
There is every chance that the flight will still be operating. If it is, the airline is legally entitled to refuse a refund even though you have compelling reasons not to go – such as work or family commitments.
Hoteliers, car-rental firms and other providers can also stick to their terms and conditions.
But the big two holiday firms, Jet2 and Tui, say they will not take you somewhere from which there is a need to self-isolate when you return.
Are these lists going to change?
Yes, though it is not clear when. The next quarantine review is due to be on 20 July, and the Scottish government has said that it may extend the list of exempt countries.
In England, it may turn out to be as much of a non-event as the one on 29 June was, with the transport secretary basically restating the restrictions.
Grant Shapps said a review will take place on 31 July. But any of the four nations can amend the statutory instrument whenever they wish.
Are there any hacks to dodge the quarantine obligation?
Not legally. The following have been tried in the weeks since blanket quarantine was introduced, and are all against the law.
Failing to provide accurate information on the Passenger Locator Form that each traveller is obliged to supply – either by providing false details or waving an out-of-date form at the UK Border Force officials who are checking arrivals, and hoping they won’t notice.
Failing to disclose wider travels when arriving via the Republic of Ireland, either flying to Great Britain or crossing into Northern Ireland.
Claiming that they have tested negative for coronavirus and therefore quarantine is no longer necessary; this is also known as the “Farage defence” after the excuse the Brexit Party leader gave for leaving quarantine early in order to go to the pub.
Other travellers are believed to have simply ignored the rules in the belief that they will not be caught.
Is testing being considered?
Heathrow airport is investigating the possibility of a test costing up to £170 on arrival at terminal 2. It has not yet been accepted as an alternative to quarantine, as testing is in some countries, but plans are well advanced.
The hope is that a negative test will allow travellers to end self-isolation and resume normal activities.
Some airlines may offer the test to higher-spending passengers as part of their business-class product.
If the test comes back positive, the passenger will be told to continue self-isolation, staying at their given quarantine address for the next 14 days.
There is currently no launch date for the pilot programme, nor when it might be extended to other terminals and airports.
I am Scottish with a holiday booked in Spain, but flying from Manchester. Do I avoid quarantine because I am starting and ending in England?
No. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, said: “You cannot get round the requirement to quarantine in Scotland by flying to or from an airport in England.
“Public Health Scotland will have access to contact details for people staying in Scotland, regardless of whether an individual arrives in Glasgow, Manchester or London and it will carry out sample checks.”
Any actual exemptions or ways of ending quarantine early?
A long list of professional exceptions apply – from flight crew to elite sportsmen and women. But they affect a relatively few people.
A much wider exemption allows anyone who leaves the country to end quarantine – though if they then return with some of the 14 days still unspent, they will have to complete their “sentence”.
For example, someone who returns from Portugal on 10 July but leaves the following day for France (a quarantine-exempt country) for a week will need to self-isolate when they come back across the Channel for a further seven days.
If a country is on the list, does that mean I will get in without a problem?
No. Avoiding quarantine on your return is just one of the many hurdles to be tackled. Many countries require tests before departure or on arrival, or say they may conduct them. You should check with the authorities before committing to travel. Others simply say they don’t want UK holidaymakers yet.