‘It doesn’t look very logical’: UK quarantine policy questioned by experts

‘We did have self-isolation but we found many people flouted it,’ said Sir David Skegg from New Zealand

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Wednesday 10 June 2020 14:02 BST
New Zealand health expert criticises UK quarantine measures

Senior public health experts have questioned the UK’s travel quarantine policy, which was introduced on Monday.

Since 8 June, almost all arrivals at British airports, ferry ports and international rail terminals have been required to self-isolate at home for two weeks.

MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee questioned four public health experts about the role of quarantine in reducing coronavirus infections.

Sir David Skegg, a New Zealand professor of preventive and social medicine, said: “It’s not clear to me what the UK strategy is for dealing with this disease.

“From the point of view of the United Kingdom’s health system, is it going to make things better or worse?

“Someone could argue that if they go and spend two weeks sitting on a beach in Greece, they’re actually less likely to become infected than if they remain in the UK, going to work in the normal way.

“From the UK’s point of view, it doesn’t look very logical to me to have 14 days quarantine for people coming from countries with a much lower incidence and prevalence of Covid-19.

“These border measures would be most effective if they were conducted very early.

“It may be worth doing now. It all depends what the strategy is. And that’s not clear to me.”

Sir David, who teaches at the University of Otago in Wellington, criticised the loose self-isolation rules in the UK.

He said: “People will be able to use public transport to go from the airport to their house. They’re going to be allowed to go out and buy food. And I don't think there's any plan to test them again.”

New Zealand has relaxed all domestic restrictions and regards itself as free of Covid-19. All international arrivals are ordered to stay in a hotel for two weeks.

“We did have self-isolation but we found many people flouted it,” said Sir David.

He added that he would not advise widespread international travel in 2020, saying: “I can’t see mass tourism being a wise option.”

Professor Teo Yik Ying, a public health expert at the National University of Singapore, said: “Until the rest of the world has its situation contained, we will not be releasing the measures and allowing for mass-market travel.”

He said that quarantine could be in place in Singapore “until the later parts of the year”.

Professor Teo said that Singapore is talking to Australia, New Zealand, China and Taiwan about so-called “green lanes” for essential business travel, involving testing on both sides.

Professor Gabriel Leung, dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Hong Kong University, said testing for coronavirus could play a role – but ideally a day before the flight.

“The time of testing should be 24 hours before you board,” he said.

Professor Leung cautioned: “It would be premature for any mass-market holidays.”

A UK government spokesperson said: “It’s important to remember what these measures are all about - protecting public health, avoiding a second peak of this deadly virus and that means managing the risk of cases being imported from abroad.

“We are exploring a range of options to increase travel underpinned by the evidence that shows it is safe, including examining how international travel corridors could safely open up routes.”

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