LONDON – The UK on Friday went ahead with a 14-day mandatory quarantine for arriving travelers and heavy fines for those who violate the rules and describe stringent new travel restrictions as other European countries are looking to facilitate theirs.
For weeks, the British government opposed the idea of a quarantine for travelers – even as the deaths from coronavirus rose above neighboring countries’ goals – but on Friday, Home Secretary Priti Patel brushed aside critics who think her plan is hurting, unprocessed or simply too late.
“It is to protect the hard profit and prevent a devastating resurgence in a second wave of the virus,” Patel said, explaining the timing of the action. As travel increases after the closure, “imported cases may begin to pose a greater and increased threat,” she added.
Travelers whose final destination is in the UK will need to provide an address where they must self-isolate and where they will be subject to police checks. Those who do not comply with a fine of up to £ 1,000 ($ 218).
The plan, which will begin on June 8 and should be reviewed every three weeks, has several exceptions, including for truck drivers, seasonal workers, government officials and medical personnel, except anyone from Ireland, who has a joint travel agreement with the UK.
One prominent traveler who could be exempted is Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who can meet face to face with another group of 7 leaders, including President Trump, if a scheduled meeting is held next month in Washington.
Still, for Mr. Johnson, who has come up with a vision of a “Global Britain” after the country’s departure from the European Union earlier this year, is the implementation of a quarantine against international travelers another painful symbol of how the pandemic has supported his new government’s agenda.
Other Britons stick to more common hopes, such as being allowed to travel on a late summer vacation, which has contributed to tensions within Mr. Johnson’s Conservative Party over the benefits of the quarantine plan. On Friday, the government said they were considering the idea of allowing “bridges” to specific countries so that British tourists could walk to the Mediterranean beaches.
Medical experts said the decision to introduce quarantine was useful but delayed. It would have been more effective three months ago, when people arriving from Italy and other parts of Europe brought the virus to the UK.
“Of course, it’s a valid move now, but what was right in February-March is also right in May-June,” said Bharat Pankhania, an expert on infectious diseases at the University of Exeter Medical School. “They had to do it when the virus was at a much earlier stage.”
Dr. Pankhania said the UK’s decision to secrete visitors from China early in the outbreak was valuable, but that the government’s decision not to do the same with European arrivals offset the benefits of this decision and contributed to the massive spread of the virus in the population.
“It strikes me as very late and very difficult to enforce,” said Anand Menon, professor of European politics and foreign affairs at King’s College London, who noted that New Zealand quarantine took place in managed facilities.
“Here you have to enter an address and the police can come by,” he said. “But if you live at that address with five others, the quarantine applies to them and, if not, what is the point?”
In dealing with the pandemic, the United Kingdom has often gone its way, gone into lockdown after many other nations had already done so and lifted such measures more slowly. Most countries restricted travel earlier and now have lower infection rates than the UK, which has suffered more than 36,000 deaths.
Britain’s move to quarantine was so slow that it takes place as some other European countries are experimenting with a relaxing itinerary. Switzerland, Germany and Austria allow families divided by border closures to meet again, and there is hope that the three countries will open their borders with each other and with France in mid-June.
At home, the British government tries to lift the lockdown but takes a cautious approach and knows that the British remain nervous about the risk of a second spike in infections.
It is struggling to win support for its plan to reopen schools for some students on June 1, with authorities in some English regions opposing and the Scottish Government saying it will keep schools closed until August.
Its persuasive task was not helped by guidance published by a scientific committee that showed that the government’s specific plan to reopen schools for certain groups of children next month was not among the nine scenarios it had modeled.
An alternative that the researchers seemed to prefer, which would have divided classes between groups of students attending each other for weeks, was not favored by the ministers.
There was a lot of confusion about Patel’s quarantine plan. The first reports, after a phone call earlier this month between Mr Johnson and President Emmanuel Macron in France suggested that travelers from France should be excluded.
In a statement at the time, the government said, “No quarantine measures would apply to travelers coming from France at this stage” and that “all measures on either side would be taken in a coordinated and reciprocal manner.”
But after a political retreat in Johnson’s cabinet, that idea was scrapped.
Nick Thomas-Symonds, who speaks on domestic issues for the Labor Party opposition party, said he supports the plan but added that the government’s handling of arrivals to the country “lacked speed, cohesion and clarity from the beginning.”
“If quarantine is needed, it shouldn’t have taken so long before measures were put in place,” he said. “Too little thought has been put into testing and screening at airports.”
Airlines have warned of a potentially devastating impact on their operations and a lobbying organization, Airlines UK expressed its concern earlier this month.
Michaelair O’Leary, chief executive of Ryanair’s low-cost carrier, has predicted that quarantine would be impossible to police and described the plans as “idiotic.”