Arriving in the U.K.? Expect two weeks in quarantine—or face a massive fine

May 22, 2020, 3:01 PM UTC

The U.K. will become the latest country to impose strict fines on travelers and returning citizens who fail to observe strict quarantine rules when they arrive in the country, all in an effort to limit cases being imported into the country.

Arrivals to the U.K. who fail to self-quarantine for 14 days after traveling from abroad will now be fined 1,000 pounds ($1,217), according to the BBC and other British media sources.

While details of a quarantine requirement have been in the works for weeks, the latest details of the plan were provided to the British press ahead of the U.K. government’s daily press conference briefing on Friday, in what has become a standard communications strategy for Boris Johnson’s government throughout the pandemic.

Those arriving in the U.K. will be required to fill out a contact form detailing the location where they will quarantine, the BBC reported. Those without a suitable place to self-isolate will have accommodation arranged by the government. The rule will not go into force until next month.

Exemptions

There are reportedly exceptions: Travelers from Ireland will not be included in the restrictions. But travelers who come via France, a major trade partner, will be required to quarantine. That’s a big U-turn from earlier pledges to exempt those coming from France via train or ferry.

Agricultural workers will also be one of the exempted groups, though they will be required to remain on the farms where they are contracted to work, The Times reported Friday. The U.K., like other major European economies, has heavily relied on seasonal workforces from Eastern Europe to pick, pack, and distribute crops throughout the spring and summer. Even as the U.K. left the EU officially in January, that workforce dynamic has not changed.

The focus on preventing cases from being imported into the U.K. is somewhat ironic. Other countries, including China, have seen cases resurge as visitors or citizens returned from abroad, bringing the virus with them. The U.K., though, finds itself near the top of global leaderboard in COVID-19 cases, suggesting the risk is at least as bad inside the country as it is abroad.

The country currently has the second-highest COVID-19 death toll in the world, after the U.S., with more than 36,000 deaths linked to the virus as of Friday. As nearby European countries have begun to reopen their economies, the U.K.’s lockdown remains largely in force, with only small shifts to government policy, reflecting the fact that transmission rates for the virus are still relatively high.

Tougher rules while others relax

The U.K.’s decision to put in place mandatory quarantines comes well after similar measures were implemented by major travel hubs, including Hong Kong and Austria, and months after such restrictions were implemented in China. The U.K. has in fact been unusual in not closing borders or restricting arrivals until now; the European Union shut down its Schengen free-trade-and-movement zone in mid-March.

But there are already signs Europe will do what it can to save the summer season. For example, Italy, which went into lockdown sooner, plans to reopen its borders to foreign visitors on June 3. There will be no quarantine for those traveling from abroad.

Late as they come, the U.K. quarantine measures are being met with criticism by those who fear it would exact further harm on tourism and the country’s faltering airlines.

The U.K. is a major global travel hub. Last week, London’s Heathrow Airport was the second busiest airport in Europe, after Frankfurt, according to Eurocontrol. The London area is also home to IAG—parent company of British Airways—and EasyJet, one of the stalwarts of low-cost, European budget flights.

Earlier this week, Heathrow’s chief executive said he hoped the U.K. would consider exemptions for “low-risk” flights from countries with low infection rates, noting that aviation was the lifeblood of the economy, according to the Financial Times.

Ryanair, the Irish carrier, also has a heavy presence in the U.K., but CEO Mike O’Leary called the expected quarantine measures “ineffective and unimplementable.” Never reluctant to say what’s on his mind, O’Leary declared the 14-day quarantine rules had no basis in scientific evidence.

“It’s unimplementable and unenforceable anyway, so I think people will largely ignore it, which is not good,” O’Leary told BBC television earlier this month.