Priti Patel today confirmed all travellers arriving to the UK from June 8 will face a mandatory 14 day period in quarantine, saying Britain must now guard against importing cases of coronavirus.
The Home Secretary said the UK needed to protect the ‘hard won progress’ it has made in the fight against the deadly disease and that tough border controls would help to prevent a ‘devastating resurgence’.
Everyone coming into the country from abroad will have to give an address and phone number to public health officials setting out where they will be self-isolating.
Those officials will then be carrying out spot checks, with anyone found to be breaking the rules facing an initial fine of £1,000. Further non-compliance could result in unlimited fines.
Any foreign national who does not comply with the measures at the border could be refused entry. Ms Patel said a ‘reckless minority’ would not be allowed to undermine the UK’s efforts to stop the spread of the disease.
Critics immediately demanded to know why the border controls, which will be reviewed every three weeks, had not been introduced earlier in the crisis as Ms Patel faced accusations of having been ‘too slow to act’.
The Home Secretary’s decision to press ahead with the move will likely spell the end of many people’s hopes of a holiday abroad in the near future.
It comes against the backdrop of a mounting backlash from airlines and the wider business community with the aviation industry warning the move ‘makes no sense’ and could harm the UK’s economic recovery.
Virgin Atlantic has warned the quarantine requirement will mean passenger services cannot resume until August at the earliest and it has urged the government to rely on screening measures instead.
Some of the more specific details of the new system are not expected to be finalised until the House of Commons returns from its latest recess at the start of June.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps had previously raised the prospect of ‘air bridges’ being put in place at a later date in order to connect the UK to low-infection countries and allow Britons to head abroad on holiday.
The confirmation of the plans comes after Australia became the first country to push for an exemption. Australian PM Scott Morrison is believed to be seeking for his country to be left out of the curbs after it almost wiped out the virus.
Ms Patel’s announcement came as Britain announced 351 more coronavirus deaths, taking the official number of victims to 36,393.
Speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference, Ms Patel said: ‘The answer as to why we are bringing these measures in now is simple. It is to protect that hard won progress and prevent a devastating resurgence in the second wave of the virus.
‘We are following the science and introducing public health measures that are supported by SAGE.
‘This will require international arrivals to self-isolate for 14 days, that is the incubation period of the virus, so that if people have become infected overseas we can limit the spread of the virus at home.
‘As we are taking this action we are taking it at a time when it will be the most effective.
‘Passenger arrivals have been down by 99 per cent compared to the previous year, 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.’
Ms Patel said that as the domestic rate of transmission continues to fall and the number of people coming to the UK rises, ‘imported cases could begin to pose a larger and increased threat’.
‘This is of course a different story from when domestic transmission was at its peak and when overseas travel was at an all time low,’ she added.
Ms Patel said she believed the ‘vast majority’ of people will ‘continue to act responsibly’ and comply with the latest lockdown rules.
But she warned: ‘We will not allow a small minority, a reckless minority to endanger us all so there will be penalties for those who break these mandatory measures.’
People who break the rules in England could be slapped with a £1,000 fixed penalty notice. Anyone who fails to pay could then face prosecution and unlimited fines.
The devolved nations will be able to set their own enforcement approaches. Ms Patel said the Government will be ‘unafraid’ to increase the value of the initial fine if people flout the rules.
Critics responded to the announcement by demanding to know why ministers had not imposed such restrictions earlier on during the outbreak.
The SNP’s shadow home secretary Joanna Cherry QC said that ‘as usual the UK is behind the curve’ and other countries have had similar measures in place ‘for months’.
‘The UK is finally catching up only to find other countries are in the process of moving on,’ she said.
‘The result is that hundreds of thousands of people have already arrived in the UK without any public health measures in place at ports of entry, to the annoyance and bemusement of the British public.
‘Priti Patel needs to fully explain the scientific advice underlying her inaction to date and the action she now intends to take.’