Home Secretary unveils quarantine plans with warning about overseas travellers

3 June 2020, 14:16

By Megan White

Overseas travellers entering the UK could increase the spread of Covid-19, the Home Secretary has said as she outlined time-limited quarantine measures for England.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Priti Patel said the UK is past the peak of coronavirus but the country is "now more vulnerable to new infections being brought in from abroad".

She confirmed the measures would be in place from June 8 and require arrivals to self-isolate for 14 days.

A breach of self-isolation could result in a £1,000 fixed penalty notice in England, or potential prosecution, Ms Patel added.

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Ms Patel said the first review of the quarantine measures will take place in the week beginning June 28, before outlining the criteria which must be satisfied to lift the measures.

The Home Secretary is under pressure from MPs who have warned that the measures - which are coming into force on Monday - will cause huge damage to the travel and aviation sectors as they recover from the coronavirus outbreak.

But publishing the detailed regulations for England in the House of Commons, she said they were "backed by the science" and were crucial to ensure the gains made in fighting the virus were not lost.

Ms Patel said: "The transmission rate in the UK continues to decline and international travel is likely to resume from its record low.

“Therefore the scientific advice is that imported cases of the virus pose a more significant threat to our national effort.

"Travellers from overseas could become a higher proportion of the overall number of infections in the UK and increase the spread of the disease.

"The Government is acting now by taking a proportionate and time-limited approach to protect the health of the British people."

Arrivals will be required to fill in a "contact locator form", including details on where they will isolate and how they can be contacted.

Ms Patel continued: "The form must be completed in advance of travel to provide details of the journey and Border Force will be at the front line of enforcing this requirement.

"Passengers require a receipt, either printed or on their phone, to prove they have completed the form.

"Border Force will undertake spot checks at the border and may refuse entry to non-resident nationals who refuse to comply. They will have the power to impose a £100 fixed penalty notice to those who don't comply."

Home Secretary Priti Patel giving a statement in the House of Commons
Home Secretary Priti Patel giving a statement in the House of Commons. Picture: PA

Ms Patel said the first review of the quarantine measures will take place in the week beginning June 28.

She acknowledged the requirements would present difficulties for the tourism industry but said they would be kept under regular review to ensure they remained "proportionate and necessary".

And she said they were looking at measures that would allow greater freedom in future - including establishing "international travel corridors" with countries that were deemed safe.

The Home Secretary added that the devolved administrations for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would be laying their own regulations to set out their enforcement approaches.

Ms Patel said the data collected will be used by Public Health England, which will undertake checks to ensure people understand and follow the rules, adding: "If Public Health England has reason to believe someone is not following the law as they should be, they will inform the police."

She said factors to be assessed include rate of infection and transmission internationally, measures implemented by other countries, and levels of imported cases in other countries with more relaxed border measures.

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Ms Patel added: "Taking this public health action - alongside our other measures, including test and trace and continued social distancing - will ensure we have greater freedom in the longer term.

"That includes international travel corridors.

"Currently, there should only be essential travel, but across Government and with the sector we continue to explore all options for future safe travel. 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. We are not alone in our fight against this disease, or in the measures we have taken to stop it."

Labour's shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds called for the Government to be clear on the scientific advice surrounding its plans to introduce a quarantine for overseas arrivals.

He told MPs: "If these measures are necessary from June 8, why have they not been necessary in recent weeks or from when they were first announced by the Home Secretary herself on May 22?

"And can the Home Secretary give me her assurance these measures from Monday next week have been recommended and approved by Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies)?"

He added: "There has to be reassurance the quarantine has a genuine public health benefit now that according to the Government it did not have in past months.

"And that these measures are not just a three-week fudge to try to spare the Government embarrassment for failing to grip this issue at the right time."

SNP home affairs spokeswoman Joanna Cherry said there was "widespread concern" the UK had been "out of step" with other countries on the introduction of public health measures.

Ms Cherry said: "The Scottish National Party have been calling on the UK Government to introduce public health measures at UK borders for some months now."

She continued: "There has been widespread concern that the UK has been out of step with most other countries who introduced public health measures at their borders far earlier in the pandemic.

"The best way for her (Ms Patel) to address the failure to introduce any measures to date and also the effectiveness of the measures she now proposes, is to publish the evidence and the advice upon which she has relied."

Ms Patel responded: "I completely reiterate and restate the points that I made about the measures that have been taken from the beginning of the year in terms of public health measures within the aviation sector but also enhanced monitoring at the borders to identify symptomatic travellers from high-risk areas. That happened early and safely."