Quarantine: What do new UK travel guidelines mean for my holidays?

Boris Johnson says mandatory 14-day self-isolation will apply to inbound airline passengers

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Monday 11 May 2020 07:34 BST
The key soundbites from Boris Johnson's lockdown statement

The prime minister has said that most airline passengers flying to the UK will soon be required to self-isolate upon arrival.

After a week of leaks and briefings about making arrivals to the UK self-isolate, Boris Johnson confirmed that airline passengers touching down from abroad will soon be quarantined.

He gave no further details of the policy, such as when it will start, how it will work and an “exit strategy” from quarantine. More details are expected in the government’s 50-page guide on changes to the coronavirus rules.

But the prospect of quarantine makes the holiday plans for millions of people even more uncertain, while causing profound problems for airlines and travel firms.

While holidaymakers and the travel industry wait to find out exactly what the government plans, The Independent has pieced together the available evidence to provide answers to the key questions.

Quarantine: what do we know?

From a yet-to-be-revealed date, probably towards the end of May, almost everyone arriving from abroad at a UK airport will be told that they must self-isolate for two weeks under stringent conditions.

There will be exemptions for travellers from the Republic of Ireland and possibly France: Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron have agreed to consult before imposing quarantine on each other’s countries.

It is thought that flight crew will be exempt, along with international transit passengers — the vast majority of whom will be connecting at Heathrow airport.

Everyone else will effectively be treated as though they are carriers of Covid-19, and be instructed to stay in a private dwelling for 14 days. They must state where they intended to self-isolate and provide contact details.

After two weeks, if they do not develop symptoms, they will be allowed to join the general population.

It is not clear what will happen to anyone arriving with no address in the UK; very few people are likely to fall into this category, because almost the only passengers on plane are likely to be returning British citizens heading home.

Enforcement has yet to be clarified. The Metropolitan Police Federation has said that officers in London lack the resources to check that arriving travellers are where they say they are.

Does it really apply only to airline passengers but not other travellers?

That was the impression the prime minister gave. He was explicit that quarantine would apply to “people coming into this country by air”. While that statement does not rule out the possibility that rail and sea passengers could be added later, if Mr Johnson had them in mind he presumably would have said “people coming into this country from abroad”.

So it presents an obvious loophole for anyone wishing to avoid 14 days in self-isolation: arrive at a UK port by ferry or cruise ship, or on Eurotunnel from Calais to Folkestone, or on Eurostar from Paris to London.

Even if the quarantine policy is extended to these modes of transport, France could remain a special case and provide a means to circumvent quarantine.

The separate agreement between the prime minister and President Macron declares: “No quarantine measures would apply to travellers coming from France at this stage; any measures on either side would be taken in a concerted and reciprocal manner.”

This potentially means that millions of British holidaymakers can look forward to a trip to France without the need to self-isolate on their return.

What does UK quarantine mean for my planned trip?

It adds a fifth test to be passed before anyone travels abroad to meet loved ones, or for a holiday or business trip.

1 Has lockdown been eased enough to allow you to reach the UK airport?

2 Has the Foreign Office lifted its warning against all overseas travel?

3 Is there an airline prepared to take you?

4 Will the destination country let you in?

5 The new condition: can you tolerate self-isolating on your return?

I have a package holiday to Spain, but can’t possibly spend 14 days in quarantine when I return. Can I get my money back?

Passengers on flights arriving from Spain and every other country in the world, except Ireland and possibly France, will be subject to quarantine. Understandably, the average holidaymaker will be unable or unwilling to contemplate adding two weeks of stringent self-isolation to their planned trip.

But the Package Travel Regulations, which govern most holidays, do not cover these present unprecedented circumstances.

They say: “In the event of unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances occurring at the place of destination or its immediate vicinity and which significantly affect the performance of the package, or the carriage of passengers to the destination, the traveller may terminate the package travel contract before the start of the package without paying any termination fee.”

Unfortunately for holidaymakers, the law is silent about the return journey. So travel firms can choose to operate the trip and impose normal cancellation terms.

One work-around would be to forego the flight home and instead make your way via France, at extra expense, if that loophole remains open.

Sounds harsh. Would holiday companies really apply these rules?

Travel firms certainly don’t want to force customers to chose between losing most or all of their money, or triggering mandatory quarantine.

Some may decide to cancel and hand back cash. If they choose this option, they will cancel only a little at a time. While they accept that June will be wiped out, they are hoping desperately that the government removes the restriction in order for them to operate in July and August.

Other companies, faced with the alternative of financial ruin, may opt to run their trips. They could conceivably adjust flight plans to build in a stop at a French airport to take advantage of a quarantine-free journey back.

I have a flight-only booking and a villa that I paid for separately. What are my rights?

If the flight goes ahead you will not be entitled to a refund. However, I predict many flights will be cancelled for as long as the quarantine remains in force.

Airlines such as British Airways, easyJet or Ryanair may well simply ground their fleets. If this happens you will get your air fare back — though if the airline goes bust as a result of the quarantine measures, that will prove more difficult.

The villa owner is entitled to keep your money if the property is open for business but you cannot get there. They may agree to a postponement. If that suits, take it. Otherwise you can try your travel insurance.

The same principle applies to rental cars and theme park tickets.

Will my cruise be affected?

Not if the voyage ends at a UK port. (The starting point is irrelevant.) But passengers on fly-cruises who arrive back in Britain by air — from anywhere other than Ireland or, possibly, France, must self-isolate.

When will I be able to go on holiday abroad again without worrying about quarantine?

No one knows. The travel industry still hopes it will be able to send people abroad in large numbers from August onwards. But the self-isolation rule is open ended.

The prime minister’s aim is “to prevent re-infection from abroad,” so presumably quarantine can be lifted only when there is no remaining threat from visitors and returning UK citizens. That could last until the end of the year, or even later, until a vaccine or more accurate tests are in place.

Can I dodge quarantine if I have a medical test proving I don’t have Covid-19?

No. Some countries are accepting medical certificates as “proof” of your being virus-free, and therefore allowing you to skip quarantine. At Vienna airport, for example, you can get an on-the-spot test for the equivalent of £166. This works both outbound (to meet the requirements of foreign governments) and when landing in Austria to circumvent the two-week self-isolation rule.

Medical certificates conducted abroad will not regarded as legitimate alternatives to quarantine. This is due to a perceived potential for false negatives (ie saying you are free of coronavirus when you are not) and the fact that, whenever the test takes place, it is possible that between then and arriving in the UK you have picked up the virus.

There will undoubtedly be calls for a ”Vienna airport”-style arrangement in the UK; in a Twitter poll I conducted, 40 per cent of respondents who said they would like such a test to avoid quarantine said they would pay £100 — with a further one in five happy to pay £200.

What will happen to prices and availability for British holidays?

Millions of UK holidaymakers who would normally go abroad will be looking for staycations. Prices will rise and accommodation will become scarce.

Already, the cheapest week in Center Parcs in Woburn Forest in late August is over £2,000. Cornwall is warning it is already close to capacity.

With trains likely to be off-limits to most travellers, cars will be the transport of choice.

The president of the AA told me “Every day in the summer after lockdown has the potential to be like a congested bank holiday on the roads. We all know the tailbacks experienced on the A303, M5 to the southwest, roads to the Lake District and coast on a bank holiday.

“This could become the new normal.”

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