Plans to quarantine travellers coming into Britain were falling apart last night as they came under fire from all sides.
Border Force and police officials say the system is ‘unenforceable’ and MPs, including Boris Johnson’s former adviser, warned the scheme would ‘hang the Closed sign on Britain’.
Those set to enforce the plans are yet to be told how to do so – and there were calls for the evidence that it will work to be made public.
Officials behind the project were accused of ‘making it up as they go along’, while Whitehall sources said travellers would simply be ‘trusted’ to follow the rules.
Government plans to quarantine all travellers coming into Britain have been labelled ‘unenforceable’ by Border Force and police officials
Senior Government sources said last night Mr Johnson was preparing to water down some of the scheme, or even axe it completely. Just ten days before all arrivals into Britain will be told to self-isolate for two weeks, it can be revealed:
- Those with upcoming medical treatments – as well as gas fitters, electricians and sewage workers – could be exempt under a raft of ‘absurd’ loopholes;
- Adherence to the rules will be taken ‘largely on trust’;
- Border Force officials have yet to be told who to check or how;
- Those using electronic passport gates are unlikely to be quizzed.
Andrew Griffith, a former chief business adviser to Mr Johnson and now MP for Arundel and South Downs, said: ‘A blanket quarantine hangs the Closed sign on Britain just as competitor nations lift their travel restrictions.
‘It is unscientific to apply it to countries with a lower rate of infection than our own – if a plane full of passengers from Iceland lands in the UK it would actually lower the average infection rate – and it is devastating for the wider economy.
Andrew Griffith, a former chief business adviser to Mr Johnson and now MP for Arundel and South Downs, said: ‘A blanket quarantine hangs the Closed sign on Britain just as competitor nations lift their travel restrictions.’ Pictured: People enjoy the warm weather at the Samil beach, Vigo, Spain
‘Going into this pandemic, our aviation sector was world leading in terms of growth, jobs and competitiveness but that is now at real risk. I know first-hand just how passionate the Prime Minister is about unleashing British business and he will be chafing at the bit to remove this restriction at the very earliest opportunity.’
Former Labour home secretary Lord Blunkett said: ‘I don’t think it’ll be enforceable. The more exemptions you give, the more unworkable a policy becomes. The best thing the Government could do is to get off this as fast as possible and recognise that, given our current infection rate, it’s more likely that other countries would want to prevent our citizens visiting them than the other way round.’
A former senior minister said: ‘There has been abject chaos in Whitehall over this. It’s been driven by the Home Office but the Department for Transport are clearly against it. They are going out of their minds. Everything is being arranged at short notice and they’re making it up as they go along. It’s utter carnage, a complete pantomime. To my mind, it is simply unworkable.’
Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt called for the evidence to be made available, saying: ‘Many people find it difficult to understand why we are introducing a blanket quarantine policy rather than targeting it at coronavirus hotspots. It is essential the scientific advice behind this approach is published.’
Extra pressure on a depleted Border Force could see scores of arrivals slip through every day without having filled in the electronic contact form at the heart of the scheme, it is feared
A Downing Street source said last night: ‘The quarantine system is a way of protecting the virus coming into the country when we have got domestic levels of transmission down low, but we are of course considering ways in which travel to other countries could be allowed if it is safe to do so.’
Problems with the proposal begin at the border but continue all the way through the scheme, sources said.
The plan is due to be put before Parliament next week but crucial details are yet to be made public. Extra pressure on a depleted Border Force could see scores of arrivals slip through every day without having filled in the electronic contact form at the heart of the scheme, it is feared.
The online form, in which travellers will have to say where they will quarantine and supply a phone number, will not be linked to passports or a database, forcing guards to manually check it has been completed.
To check every passenger would cause queues that snake for hours, sources warned.
Prime Minister is considering watering down or even axing his plans for all incoming travellers to Britain to isolate for two weeks only ten days before measures were due to be put in place
And those who use E-passport gates are unlikely to be checked at all. Hundreds of millions of foreign nationals have the right to enter the UK without being seen by an immigration officer.
Immigration officers will have the power to hand out £100 on-the-spot fines to those who refuse to complete a form while lying about your details will be a criminal offence.
A Border Force source said there was concern among staff about how they will be expected to deal with travellers who refuse to complete the so-called ‘contact locator’ form. ‘Frontline immigration officials have never been required to issue on-the-spot fines in this way before,’ he said. ‘It’s a completely new way of doing things and no one knows how it’s going to work.’
Once through the borders, arrivals will be told to expect check calls on a ‘regular’ basis.
Private agency staff will carry out telephone interviews with travellers. They will work from a script in a bid to gauge the honesty of each person they interview, the Mail understands. The system will rely heavily on the public complying with the rules voluntarily – as they did during the ‘stay at home’ phase of the Covid-19 emergency measures, sources said. The Home Office said there were no plans to use technology which could help pinpoint whether travellers were self-isolating at the address they provided.
Spanish flight with 140 people on board is quarantined in Lanzarote after passenger gets positive coronavirus test result while in the air
- Plane was flying from Madrid to Lanzarote when the man received his results
- On arrival, the aircraft was immediately zoned off by health and security officials
- As of today, Spain has recorded 27,119 deaths from the virus and 255,760 cases
By Rita Sobot for MailOnline
A flight with at least 140 people on board was quarantined today after a passenger received a positive coronavirus test result while in the air.
The plane, which arrived in Lanzarote in the Canary Islands from Madrid this afternoon, was immediately zoned off by health and security officials at Cesar Manrique airport, with the police also attending.
An investigation is already underway to find out why he was flying in the first place and whether he met all the travel rules, which only allow people to fly for a number of reasons, including work or in the event of an emergency.
Two travellers get into an emergency vehicle after disembarking in Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain this afternoon
Reports say the passenger took a COVID-19 test before he travelled because he had been in contact with someone who had died from the virus and had attended the funeral.
However, he left before the result came in and it was only revealed he was positive when the aircraft was in mid-air. It has been reported but not confirmed that the person who died from the virus was the man’s mother.
The Canary authorities were immediately contacted by the Castilla y León public health department and the airport launched all the coronavirus protocols.
The man now faces prosecution for skipping quarantine and the State of Emergency and has been reported for a possible crime against public health.
A traveller gets into an emergency response vehicle after disembarking in Lanzarote, Canary Islands this afternoon
He and his nearest passengers were immediately isolated and the rest of the passengers will have to be quarantined and take tests to see if they have contracted the virus while on the flight.
It is understood the island’s government has offered them rooms in one hotel as they won’t be able to mix with family members or friends.
The man and the passengers sitting closest to him will have to be in quarantine for two weeks.
The others must stay in confinement until tests are taken in one week as only then would the result be accurate.
The incident adds fuel to the debate of travel generally and concerns over importing cases to regions, like the Canaries, which have had a low incidence of coronavirus and would not want to see any flare-up.
Lanzarote has only had six deaths and 84 positives. In total, there have been 160 coronavirus deaths in the Canary Islands which wants to protect its low incidence level for the safety of residents and tourists.
Today, independently from this incident, the Canary government has called for all travellers to take a coronavirus test before they leave their country of origin.
As of today, Spain had recorded 27,119 deaths from the virus and 255,760 cases.
This devastating quarantine policy will scar the economy forever, says EasyJet boss JOHAN LUNDGREN after announcing possible staffing cuts of 30 per cent
Like all airlines, easyJet has been put in a critical position by coronavirus. This week, I had to announce that we may have to reduce our staff numbers by up to 30 per cent. I am sorry to have had to deliver such terrible news, but this crisis has left us with little choice.
My focus now is to ensure that easyJet survives and that we protect jobs for the long term.
We need to return to flying as soon as possible, but for this to happen, the Government must act fast. Many measures are needed, but quick action on quarantine will be an important part.
easyJet boss Johan Lundgren (pictured) said: ‘It was frustrating that the Government chose not to consult our industry on the implementation of the quarantine measures’
The Mail’s Alex Brummer wrote yesterday in stark terms, criticising the decision to quarantine passengers arriving in Britain for two weeks irrespective of where they have come from, from June 8.
Our flights will recommence on June 15, and we want to be able to fly as many people as possible to wherever it is safe to do so.
It was frustrating that the Government chose not to consult our industry on the implementation of the quarantine measures.
Quarantine will severely restrict Britain’s connectivity. It will render many international routes unviable for travellers to the UK.
British holidaymakers and business travellers will think twice about going abroad if they have to quarantine for 14 days on their return.
Should the quarantine remain in place throughout the summer, it will have a huge and lasting impact on the recovery of the economy and on all our lives, just as many economists are predicting the most serious recession in a century.
Revenue from tourism is vital for many parts of the UK, from London to the Scottish Highlands, in cities and towns such as York and Stratford-upon-Avon. Many businesses reliant on this income will be permanently scarred by the impact of the proposed quarantine.
Business recovery will also be linked to the ability to travel. I acknowledge that this period has shown us the potential of using video calls for work. But it has also demonstrated what we miss through not having face-to-face meetings.
British exporters will soon be competing on a screen against other businesses that can travel in person.
An exemption for business travel alone will not solve these issues, as the vast majority of passengers travel for leisure. Without leisure travel, few routes on any airline would be viable.
easyJet boss Johan Lundgren said: ‘Quarantine will severely restrict Britain’s connectivity. It will render many international routes unviable for travellers to the UK’
And, of course, there is the impact of any quarantine on our wellbeing. Travelling on holiday is something that families across the UK save up for and look forward to – not to mention all those vital visits to see loved ones abroad.
Quarantine will not only make all of this much harder – it runs against the trend we can see across the world and in Europe.
The main European tourist markets, such as Greece and Spain, anticipate reopening safely to visitors from July.
Germany is expected to lift its quarantine, and France is also expected to open up to European visitors.
Even Italy, which suffered so much from Covid, is looking to facilitate international travel.
So how can the UK safely reconnect to the rest of the world? Boris Johnson has outlined a sensible way forward: The implementation of ‘air bridges’. These would allow for travel between countries where Covid-19 is under control and where effective health measures are in place.
I support the Prime Minister’s objective, and believe it is critical for these air bridges to be established quickly wherever it is safe to do so.
‘Travelling on holiday is something that families across the UK save up for and look forward to – not to mention all those vital visits to see loved ones abroad,’ said the easyJet boss
Speed is important. If the Government announces an air bridge for a new country from tomorrow, this does not mean we can start flying immediately.
Anyone hoping to go on their summer holiday in July needs to know what air bridges will be in place.
So we propose four key steps for the Government to take.
First, the quarantine should be scrapped. In its place, air bridges should be arranged between countries, such as Greece, where the number of new Covid-19 cases is close to zero.
Second, clear criteria for air bridges should be published so that new ones can be put in place as soon as possible. We see no need to wait for a periodic review.
Third, the number of air bridges should be maximised, where this is safe.
Finally, where the science allows, governments should look at the possibility of introducing ‘Covid passports’ identifying passengers who have been infected and are therefore immune. Rapid testing prior to departure or on arrival may help to make this possible.
The first priority of any airline is to ensure that its passengers can fly safely. We encourage measures to support this, but a blanket quarantine is too blunt an instrument.