Boris Johnson refuses to say if Britons can take summer holidays amid mounting criticism of 14 day quarantine plan

Chief scientific adviser stresses decision that time is right for mandatory self-isolation of travellers made by ministers

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
,Simon Calder
Wednesday 03 June 2020 20:28 BST
Priti Patel announces 14-day coronavirus quarantine plan to begin 8 June

Boris Johnson was facing a mounting backlash from the UK’s travel and aviation industries as the government forced through a 14-day quarantine on travellers in the face of growing opposition within the prime minister’s own party.

And amid ritual protestations from ministers that the government was “following the science”, the PM’s chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance made it brutally clear that the timing of the unprecedented measure was decided by ministers alone.

There was no vote in the Commons to approve home secretary Priti Patel’s plans, which are being implemented by means of an order known as a statutory instrument.

But a string of Tories – including former PM Theresa May – lined up to raise concerns, while the Business Travel Association warned that many of the millions of jobs across the travel and tourism sector are “at risk of being lost forever”.

Mr Johnson held out a glimmer of hope to those wishing to take holidays abroad, confirming the government was in talks with a number of European states about “safe corridors” for free movement between countries with low levels of coronavirus, which would “certainly” be developed at some point in the future.

But he refused to say whether foreign holidays will be possible this summer.

And Ms Patel’s quarantine, which will require mandatory self-isolation for 14 days for all new arrivals at UK airports, ferry ports and international rail terminals from next Monday, will make overseas travel all but impossible in the weeks ahead of a planned review on 29 June.

The home secretary unveiled details of the measures as:

  • The official UK death toll reached 39,728 with the confirmation of 359 more fatalities;
  • Mr Johnson offered the prospect of further lockdown relaxation – including to the two-metre social distance rule – but said they were dependent on the public continuing to follow guidance and not holding indoor gatherings during the coming rainy period;
  • The PM admitted recession will follow the pandemic and offered an apprenticeship guarantee to young people without work as a result;
  • Business secretary Alok Sharma became the latest minister to go into self-isolation with suspected coronavirus, after coughing and mopping his brow at the dispatch box; and
  • A Kantar poll of 7,000 people across the G7 found that fewer than half approve of their government’s response to the pandemic, with Britain seeing the steepest fall in trust since April, down 18 points from 69 per cent to 51 per cent.

Ms Patel told the House of Commons the government was right to impose a quarantine now, when levels of Covid are falling around the world, rather than at the outset of the pandemic, when the virus is believed to have been brought to the UK by travellers from China, Italy and Spain.

“When there was significant transmission within the UK, border restrictions would have been very marginal in their impact on the epidemic within the UK,” she said. “Now that domestic transmission within the UK is coming under control it is the right time to prepare these new measures at the border.”

But she repeatedly refused to say if the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) had recommended the move, heightening the view that it was politically inspired.

Downing Street would say only that there had been “input” from scientific and medical advisers.

And Sir Patrick left no doubt that the decision that a quarantine was appropriate for this stage of the outbreak – when Britain continues to record thousands of new cases a day and has the world’s second highest tally of deaths from Covid – was made by ministers.

Sage’s advice was that “measures at the border are most effective when the incidence is very low in this country and when applied to countries which have higher incidence”, said the chief scientific adviser, adding: “The judgement of that time … is something for politicians to make. They make the policy and they make the timing decisions.”

Ms Patel’s Labour shadow Nick Thomas-Symonds said she needed to reassure the public and industry that the measures were more than “just a three-week fudge to try to spare the government embarrassment for failing to grip this issue at the right time”.

And Ms May said the government should instead be developing methods for screening passengers posing a health risk.

“Aviation supports a million jobs in the UK,” the former PM told the Commons. “International air travel is necessary for trade, without it there is no global Britain.

“So instead of bringing in measures to close Britain off from the rest of the world, why is the government not taking a lead in developing an international aviation health screening standard to save jobs and ensure Britain is open for business?”

Tory former defence secretary Liam Fox said the scheme would inflict “unnecessary economic isolation” on the UK, while his ex-cabinet colleague Theresa Villiers urged Ms Patel to suspend its introduction for a few weeks until “air bridges” to popular destinations are in place to save jobs in aviation and family holidays overseas.

Conservative MP Ben Spencer said the quarantine was a “very blunt tool with many downsides and consequences”, while his party colleague Henry Smith said the measures should have been introduced at the start of the outbreak, “not next week, when the aviation and travel sectors need to start being revived and jobs saved”. Winchester’s Tory MP Steve Brine described it as “the right move at the wrong time”.

The president of the CBI, John Allan, said: “Business now urgently needs a clear way forward for opening up international travel options for customers and employees.

“Our economic bounce back will depend on the free flow of a range of workers.”

And the chief executive of the Business Travel Association, Clive Wratten, said: “If we leave it until the end of June before getting the first travel corridor in place, be it with Italy, Spain or Portugal, many jobs across the travel industry are at risk of being lost forever.

“Quarantine crushes the innovation and dynamism that the home secretary applauded today. At this desperately difficult time for our industry, she offered no hope to the millions employed across the travel industry and its supply chains.”

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