“It sucks, but I guess those are the rules,” said Sophie from Norway.
“I’m going to stay with my boyfriend. I have to stay in while he has to work, but that’s going to be OK for now.”
Sophie had just touched down at Heathrow airport after a tortuous journey via Oslo and Stockholm. Had she been able to complete the trip 13 hours earlier, she would have been able to join the British public with lockdown gradually easing.
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Instead, she was one of the first arrivals to be subject to the UK’s first blanket quarantine rules.
Priti Patel, the home secretary, has ordered that all arrivals at UK airports, ferry ports and international rail terminals will be required to self-isolate at a specified address for 14 days.
Along with almost all the passengers aboard SAS flight 531 from the Swedish capital, Sophie is now obliged to remain at her boyfriend’s home until one minute past midnight on 23 June; the two weeks of self-isolation begin only on the day after the arrival date.
While she may use “any garden, yard, passage, stair, garage, outhouse, or other appurtenance” at her nominated address, she may leave only for medical assistance, to attend court or a funeral or to go shopping for essentials.
The legislation is built on the broad presumption that everyone arriving in the UK is carrying coronavirus, and must therefore isolate themselves from the rest of the population – though arrivals are free, as Sophie chose, to travel onwards by public transport.
An unholy trinity of sworn airline enemies – British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair – have joined forces to attempt to overturn the quarantine law in the courts.
Michael O’Leary, chief executive of Ryanair, began the day by rubbishing the policy on as many networks as he could manage before breakfast.
The boss of the Irish airline told Radio 4’s Today programme: “When internationals arrive today, you’re going to wave them off on the London Underground, the Gatwick Express, the Heathrow Express, where a positive Covid arrival can infect many thousands of British people.”
Sophie from Norway said she was told she should have completed a “Passenger Locator Form” only on arrival at Heathrow.
The law requires it to be completed in the 48 hours before departure to the UK, with offenders theoretically fined £100 or turned away from Britain.
The penalty for breaking lockdown is £1,000 (or £480 in Scotland). But with UK border officials told that they should question the responses on the form only if travellers give their name as “Mickey Mouse” and their selected residence as “Buckingham Palace”, doubts have been raised about how effective enforcement of self-isolation will be.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “All the indications so far are that there has been a good level of compliance.”
He clarified that he was referring to arriving passengers filling in forms to state their intended quarantine location, saying it was too early yet to assess levels of compliance with the quarantine order itself.
The spokesman was unable to say whether any fines for refusing to cooperate had been imposed.
Mr O’Leary, meanwhile, maintained: “You could be in Sainsbury’s, you could be on the beach or you could be on a golf course, in the unlikely event that anyone from the Home Office actually calls you this week.
“What it’s going to do is untold devastation, not just to the airlines but to British tourism – the thousands of hotels, visitors attractions, restaurants – in the next couple of months.”
The bonfire of the holiday plans began swiftly, with Jet2 cancelling trips for the first two weeks of July, blaming “ongoing travel restrictions”.
Few British holidaymakers will want to take a trip abroad if they have to self-isolate for two weeks afterwards.
The Leeds-based company will proactively contact affected customers. They will be offered a chance to rebook their holiday to a later date, but can instead opt for a full cash refund.
Meanwhile ministers recited the mantra of the home secretary: “These measures are informed by science, backed by the public and will keep us all safe.”
As the day wore on, each of those claims looked increasingly threadbare.
No scientist was wheeled out at the Downing Street briefing. A Twitter poll carried out on behalf of The Independent with nearly 4,000 self-selecting respondents showed 73 per cent against quarantine.
And the Home Office chose not to discuss an analysis that indicates keeping healthy British people in the UK rather letting them visit countries with lower rates of infection will increase the number of Covid-19 cases.
Nevertheless, Boris Johnson’s spokesman insisted: “The science is clear that if we limit the number of new cases being brought in from abroad, we can reduce the likelihood of a second wave of coronavirus.”
He confirmed that discussions about the establishment of “air bridges” between low-infection countries was continuing, but declined to name the countries which the UK is speaking to.
It is understood that such discussions are not taking place with the EU as a whole.
Earlier, the Portuguese foreign minister described quarantine as “the enemy of tourism”.
Responding to Labour leader Keir Starmer’s proposal for tests at airports as an alternative to quarantine, the PM’s spokesman said that it could take a significant period after infection for symptoms of coronavirus to appear and for patients to test positive.
“They could potentially have a test at the border which could say they were negative for coronavirus and a few days later then could develop symptoms and by that point they could have been shedding the virus for days,” he said.
“There are just too many unknowns right now,” concluded Adele Sneddon, a member of the travelling public, on BBC Radio Scotland.
“I think we’ll be wanting to have things firmed up a bit more before we’ll be wanting to travel.”
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