Residents arriving in England from 22 ‘red list’ hotspot countries with new variants of COVID-19 will have to quarantine in hotels at their own expense, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Wednesday (27 January).
The measures will apply to people coming from most of South America, southern Africa and Portugal following concerns about new, more dangerous variations of the coronavirus. Portugal is likely to be the only EU country to be included on the ‘red list’.
Meanwhile, people wanting to leave the UK will be required to make a written declaration explaining why they need to travel.
“I want to make clear that under the stay-at-home regulations it is illegal to leave home to travel abroad for leisure purposes and we will enforce this at ports and airports by asking people why they are leaving and instructing them to return home if they do not have a valid reason to travel,” said Johnson.
Addressing UK lawmakers in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Home Secretary Priti Patel said the details of the “managed isolation process”, under which incoming travellers will be required to isolate for ten days without exception, will be published next week.
The new restrictions have prompted divisions between ministers, with Patel among a group of ministers who argued in favour of the new quarantine requirements.
The opposition Labour party has also called for a blanket quarantine system, while Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party government in Scotland, as well as the government in Wales, have said that they will impose tougher requirements than those south of the border.
Referring to plans for Johnson to travel to the Scottish capital Edinburgh for talks on devolution, Sturgeon expressed doubt that it would be ‘essential travel’
“People like me and Boris Johnson have to be in work for reasons that I think most people understand. But we don’t have to travel across the UK as part of that,” Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday.
“Is that really essential right now? Because we have a duty to lead by example,” she added.
While the UK has quickly advanced its vaccination programme, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock stating on Tuesday that one in nine people have already received the first vaccine, the UK’s death toll from COVID-19 became the first in Europe to exceed 100,000 earlier this week.
Johnson’s government has been widely criticised for having few restrictions on travellers entering the UK since the pandemic hit the country last March.
The new restrictions have also been criticised as insufficient by scientists.
Christina Pagel, a member of the Independent Sage group of scientific experts who advise the government, said the policy would be “enough to damage the economy but not nearly enough to be effective against COVID”.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]