Since it was first announced, there has been huge backlash over the Government’s plan to introduce a 14-day quarantine period for people arriving in Britain after June 8. Many feel that it has been implemented too late in the day; that it’s unenforceable, and worst of all, economically destructive.
Huw Merriman, Conservative Chair of the Transport Select Committee, described it as the “wrong policy” that “disproportionately impacts the economy”, and 217 tourism and travel businesses put forward similar concerns in a letter to Priti Patel.
Today the Home Secretary is due to outline details of the quarantine in the House of Commons, but it remains to be seen what happens next. Because it is a statutory instrument, it does not automatically need to be voted on.
However, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons will be able to decide if the scale of opposition warrants a debate. Given that this week over 20 Tory MPs demanded that the Government rethinks its strategy, with the support of around 50 MPs, it may very well be the case that their side gets a hearing.
MPs and travel leaders are right to be concerned; travel accounts for more than £5 billion sales and four million jobs, so quarantine is going to have a big economic toll. That’s before we get to the impact it could have on national morale, particularly with the advent of summer.
Research by the International Air Transport Association showed that Brits willingness to travel again soon was above that of the United States, Japan, Germany, Canada and Australia – so by all indications these sort of barriers will be received badly.
It could even be said to be socio-economically unjust; people who can work-from-home will find it much easier to isolate after holidays than those in frontline jobs, such as nurses, carers and delivery staff.
Even so, the Government has said its priority is to keep the R number below one; it is doing everything it can to minimise more infections of this virus, especially as Britain comes down from the peak. With that in mind, it makes sense that it is being extremely careful about travel, even if spite of the economic consequences.
Ultimately the Government’s critics can’t be entirely surprised it’s so cautious after numerous accusations that it did not impose lockdown soon enough. Now that the figures are under control, it is seizing the moment to knock the virus on the head. Yes the measures may be excessive in retrospect, but given that Britain’s airports are some of the busiest in the world, it is simply not worth taking the risk – and causing more disruption in the long-run.
Furthermore, the measures are temporary and subject to a review on June 29, when the Government will have a much better understanding of how many cases there are in Britain, and should be in more of a position to relax the rules.
It has even been said that plans are being drawn up in Whitehall for “air bridges” between countries; an agreement which would allow the Brits to venture to various destinations. This idea was first proposed by Grant Shapps in May, and has become increasingly popular. It could open up travel to Spain, Germany, Italy and France.
One thing that’s worth remembering, for UK citizens who question the move, is that even if the Government scrapped the quarantine plan, there are countries that will not have Brits there. Spain’s tourism minister, for instance, said that the UK’s coronavirus figures had “to improve” before they allow visitors, and Greece has said no too. Other countries have strict guidelines about who can come; Austria and Iceland ask for medical certificates proving a negative Covid-19 result, and Cyprus is only allowing citizens from Germany, Greece and Malta in.
So it is a fallacy to believe the quarantine itself is blocking movement back and forth from Britain; one of the main problems is that other countries are wary of our Covid-19 levels. Hence why the Government is being so vigilant about quarantine; we have to prove we can totally get our Coronavirus rate down.
So it is a question of the long-game. In the immediate, there are exemptions for health workers, scientists, lorry drivers and others – who can keep part of the economy going. But anything that would compromise the trajectory Brits are on – to get rid of the Coronavirus – will merely push holidays even further away.