Two weeks’ quarantine if travelling to UK under plans for ‘second phase’ of coronavirus response

Passengers arriving at British airports and ports will be placed in quarantine for up to a fortnight, under plans for the “second phase” (see below) of the Government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

By Edward Malnick, Sunday Political Editor 25 April 2020 

Officials are drawing up a scheme that mirrors the 14-day “stay home” notices currently issued to Singaporean citizens returning to their country from abroad. It could be rolled out as early as next month, and include large fines for those who fail to remain at the address given to authorities as their place of isolation.

The radical plan, being overseen by Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, and Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, is intended to stop the transmission of Covid-19 from abroad, when the Government launches its “track and trace” strategy to identify and isolate cases of the virus in the UK. It would apply to both British citizens and those from abroad.

The disclosure comes as the Covid-19 death toll exceeded 20,000 for the first time on Saturday, as 813 more deaths were reported in the previous 24 hours.

In other developments:

  • The Sunday Telegraph understands that Downing Street is preparing to ditch its current “stay at home” slogan for the “second phase” of its response, with Isaac Levido, the Australian strategist who masterminded the Conservatives’ election win, working on a new appeal to the public…….

As part of plans for a “new normal” for businesses, the Government is drawing up separate plans to introducing strict social distancing in workplaces that re-open, with employers told to provide hand-washing facilities or sanitiser. A cabinet minister said Mr Johnson was expected to focus on decisions about the “very gradual opening up of shops, workplaces and public spaces”, before deciding when to begin re-opening schools.

The plan to quarantine passengers arriving in the UK would involve authorities requiring travellers to fill out a specific landing card which would ask for information about the individual’s health, as well as details of the address at which they will self-isolate.

Officials are planning a worldwide communications campaign to warn passengers of the measures that they can expect if they come to the country. It would be likely to dissuade many of those already in the country from travelling abroad, on the basis that they are unable or unwilling to self-isolate for two weeks, as well as deterring travellers from abroad.

The Government is considering possible exemptions for essential workers such as lorry drivers bringing vital supplies to the UK.

A Government source said: “A stringent, Singapore-style approach at our ports will help the UK manage the risk of travellers entering the country and reduce the possibility of a second peak.

“We are looking at deploying these measures at the right time, in line with the scientific advice and when community transmission has been significantly reduced.”

Singapore introduced 14-day “stay home” notices on March 18, for everyone landing in the country.

The Government has faced criticism for allowing travellers to continue coming into the UK without imposing health checks or quarantines. But officials insist that the high rate at which the virus was spreading within the UK meant that banning flights or imposing quarantines would have been relatively ineffective before bringing transmission under control.  

On Friday, Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, said that the infection rate had fallen low enough to start thinking about lifting some of the lockdown restrictions, amid growing concern about the collateral damage.

However the second phase of the Government’s response is likely to involve some tougher measures in other areas, such as those currently being considered for the country’s borders..

Ministers believe the measures can be carried out under powers in Mr Johnson’s Coronavirus Act allowing authorities to assess and isolate “potentially infectious” travellers. When the legislation was introduced last month, the Government said the provisions “look to fill existing gaps in powers to ensure the screening and isolation of people who may be infected or contaminated with the virus and to ensure that constables can enforce health protection measures where necessary.”

Authorities would be able to check whether those asked to quarantine have remained at their stated address.

Ministers have asked officials to draw up proposals for enforcing the planned measures, with the potential for large fines and even legal proceedings for those who are found to have broken the rules. The plans were discussed at a meeting of ministers and officials on Wednesday.

On Saturday, the latest official figures showed that 20,319 people had died with Covid-19 in UK hospitals – an increase from 813 on Friday. Last month, Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, had said that keeping the number of deaths below 20,000 would be a “good outcome”.

Ms Patel said: “As the deaths caused by this terrible virus pass another tragic and terrible milestone, the entire nation is grieving.”

During the Government’s daily press briefing, Ms Patel praised the “spirit of national unity” during the coronavirus outbreak, urging  the public to “not lose sight” of the fact their efforts are saving lives.

A No10 spokesman declined to comment on the plans to quarantine travellers.