Britain will introduce a 14-day quarantine for travellers arriving from abroad from June 8, interior minister Priti Patel said, with the government warning that anyone breaking the rules would face a fine or prosecution.
All international arrivals, including returning Britons, will have to self-isolate and provide details of where they will be staying under the plans, which were criticised by airlines, business groups and politicians alike.
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“Now we are past the peak of this virus, we must take steps to guard against imported cases triggering a resurgence of this deadly disease,” Patel said at a news conference.
“We are not shutting down completely. We are not closing our borders.”
Those who breached the quarantine in the United Kingdom could be fined 1,000 UK pounds ($1,218), and spot checks would be carried out by health and border officials.
The quarantine will not apply to those arriving from the Republic of Ireland, nor to freight drivers, medical professionals or seasonal agricultural workers. The measures will be reviewed every three weeks.
But French officials reacted with “regret”, with the interior ministry in Paris saying it was considering imposing reciprocal measures against arrivals from the UK.
The UK has recorded the highest number of deaths in Europe from coronavirus, with more than 36,000 people who have tested positive having died so far.
But the quarantine move is controversial, especially with the aviation sector, where flights have been grounded and passenger numbers slumped during lockdown measures.
Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary this week branded a proposed quarantine plan “idiotic” and accused ministers of “making it up as they go along”.
Virgin Atlantic said quarantine would prevent services from resuming and claimed there “simply won’t be sufficient demand to resume passenger services before August at the earliest”.
Trade body Airlines UK has said it “would effectively kill” international travel to the UK.
Others have questioned why Britain did not introduce quarantine earlier, like countries such as South Korea, Spain and the United States.
Ireland also imposes measures
In addition to Britain, travellers arriving in Ireland from next week will also be legally required to inform the government where they will quarantine for 14 days to prevent the spread of coronavirus, Minister for Health Simon Harris said on Friday.
“These are extraordinary measures but they are necessary in a time of a public health crisis,” said Harris in a statement.
From Thursday until at least June 18, those arriving in the Republic of Ireland will be legally required to complete a form noting the address where they will “self-isolate” for two weeks.
Failure to complete the form will carry a penalty of up to 2,500 euros ($2,725) and/or up to six months’ imprisonment.
All nationalities will be required to provide information, including those coming from neighbouring Britain.
Ireland has suffered 1,592 deaths from coronavirus according to the latest department of health figures. Recorded daily deaths peaked at 77 on April 20 but on Friday, the figure had fallen to 11.