UK defends plan to quarantine travelers

LONDON — The U.K. is “more vulnerable” to the import of coronavirus cases from abroad than ever before, the home secretary claimed in defense of the governments decision to quarantine travelers arriving in Britain from Monday.

Most people arriving in the U.K. from June 8 will be told to self-isolate for 14 days in a bid to prevent the coronavirus from being introduced from overseas. So-called “air bridges” granting some countries exceptions to the quarantine period are still being discussed but will not be introduced until at least the first review of the new rules, scheduled for the week commencing June 28, Priti Patel said.

The quarantine will apply to all residents and foreign nationals, but a long list of workers whose occupation is considered essential will be exempt, including truckers and freight workers, postal workers, medical professionals working on the coronavirus response, and seasonal agricultural workers. Those moving within the U.K.s Common Travel Area with Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands will also be exempt.

Defending the plan in the House of Commons after three weeks of intense political debate, Patel said that as international travel resumes in coming weeks, the scientific advice is clear that imported cases of the virus pose a risk to U.K. public health.

“We are now more vulnerable for infections being brought from abroad,” she said. “Some had suggested that public health measures at the border should have been introduced when the virus was at its peak. However, at that time the scientific advice was clear that such measures would make little difference when domestic transmission was widespread.”

A study by J.L. Partners shared with POLITICOs London Playbook shows 69 percent of people want the two-week quarantine plan to stay in place.

Patel added: “Travelers from overseas could become a higher proportion of the overall number of infections in the U.K. and increase the spread of the disease.”

Although the Foreign Office continues to advise against all non-essential travel, airlines have announced plans to resume many of their services from July and southern European countries are already competing to attract European tourists.

The home secretary said the government “will continue to explore all options for future safe travel” including “international travel corridors.”

“Any international approaches will be bilateral and agreed with the other countries concerned. We need to ensure that those countries are deemed to be safe,” she said.

One such country could be Portugal, according to its Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva. “During these weeks our diplomats will work together in order to guarantee that British tourists coming to Portugal would not be subjected on their return to England to any kind of quarantine,” he told BBC Radio 4s “Today” program.

Public health mental gymnastics

A large number of cross-party MPs criticized the quarantine plan for arriving too late, and being ineffective, potentially making it harder for transport and tourist sectors to recover.

“Im afraid I cannot simply get my head around the public health mental gymnastics of this policy,” said former International Trade Secretary Liam Fox. “If such a barrier was required, why was it not introduced earlier in the outbreak? And if its a contingency measure against a so-called second wave why apply it to countries with a lower infection rate that we already have?”

Fox added the “answer lies in the governments test and trace system, rather than unnecessary economic isolation.”

Boris Johnson insisted the quarantine aims to prevent the re-entry of the virus into the country | Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

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