Firearms dealing, violent disorder, actual bodily harm – these are just some of the crimes that carry a 10-year maximum sentence. And, as of now, so does a brand new felony: breaking travel quarantine rules.
Matt Hancock announced the new rules at HMP Dispatch Box House of Commons, where he is understood to be serving an indefinite sentence with no prospect of early release for either good, bad, or mildly indifferent behaviour.
Might seem like a long sentence, 10 years, for the crime of not being entirely truthful on your passenger locator form when you arrive at the airport. But these are serious times, and serious measures are required.
Ten years ago, during the London riots, a student was jailed for six months for stealing a bottle of water from Lidl, after finding himself unable to pay for it as the store was being looted at the time. It was deemed, back then, that the very fabric of society was at risk, so draconian measures were needed. A young man from Wolverhampton also got 10 months for "momentarily" stealing two left-footed trainers.
And this is no different. Once upon a time (just over a year ago), there was only one case of Covid-19 in all the world. And so, in theory, it only takes one selfish traveller, carrying a new variant, to take us right back to square one.
Travel quarantine policy is now deemed so crucial to containing the spread of coronavirus that breaking the rules is as serious as ABH.
The details of the legislation have not yet been published, so we must all wait and see what the even greater punishments will be. How long, for example, will the prison tariff be for failing to introduce any kind of meaningful travel quarantine policy for almost a full year? If just one person can get 10 years, for one offence, how long will the prime minister have to serve, for doing absolutely nothing about it until now?
The health secretary also announced the new quarantine hotel policy. From now on, if you travel to a "red-list" country, you have to pre-book a 10 day stay in an approved quarantine hotel on your return, at a cost, to you, of £1,750. (It might seem a lot but think of it like a loyalty scheme. Check out early and the next 10 years are free.)
On a personal note, six months ago I was on a Zoom call with some friends, watching as a pal who lives in the US was packing to go to the airport and fly to South Korea with his Korean wife. He was telling us all about how they had to quarantine in a hotel in Seoul on arrival before they could go anywhere. Another friend of mine is currently stuck at home in Yorkshire, waiting to join his wife who has taken a job in Doha. Waiting, explicitly, for a slot in a quarantine hotel to become free.
So it’s not like it’s a new idea, this stuff. It’s not like the countries that have best contained the spread of Covid haven’t been doing this for a very, very long time indeed. The severity of the punishment for breaking the sentence is, by some margin, the most certain evidence of how much sooner it should have been introduced.
There are mitigating factors. Last summer, when Grant Shapps was busily adding holiday destinations to his quarantine-on-return list, the deciding variable was the prevalence of Covid-19 in the place in question compared to the prevalence in the UK.
It’s almost nostalgic to look back on. Now that we’ve accidentally turned ourselves into the world’s leper colony – and Matt Hancock is busy pouring petrol on to the barn and setting it alight, as a tiny horse-shaped silhouette vanishes over the far horizon – what, really is the point? It’s like banning people from jumping into a swimming pool if they’re already wet.
If the point is to control the arrival of people from areas of higher infection than the UK, then the only places British people need to be banned from going on holiday to are actual Covid-19 wards, which seems faintly ridiculous until you remember it’s still not a year since the actual prime minister was on television, bragging about what a jolly nice time he’d just been having, doing a bit of gladhanding in one of them.
Still, don’t worry about all that now. Just get yourself down to Hancock Travel. People still routinely pay huge amounts to go on 10-day silent meditation retreats in Buddhist monasteries in Thailand. Now you can do it in a Premier Inn in Hounslow for just £1,750. And, who knows, you might even get an extra decade thrown in.
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