People arriving in the U.K. next month will have to quarantine themselves for 14 days and could face an unlimited fine if they fail to comply, the British government announced Friday.
The quarantine plan has sparked confusion and criticism from airlines, airports and lockdown-weary Britons wondering whether they will get to take a vacation abroad this summer.
Britain did not close its borders during the worst of the country’s coronavirus outbreak, which has been linked to more than 36,000 deaths in the U.K. It is introducing its quarantine requirement just as many other European countries are starting to open up again.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said the rules will take effect June 8 and will apply to arrivals from all countries except Ireland, which has a longstanding free-movement agreement with the U.K. Ireland is expected to announce similar measures for people arriving there.
Patel said that as transmission of the virus within the U.K. slows, the quarantine will help prevent imported cases and a “devastating” second wave of the virus.
There will be exemptions for truckers and freight workers, front-line medics and seasonal agricultural labourers.
Britons returning from overseas will also have to stay home and avoid mixing with others for 14 days under the measures, which will be reviewed every three weeks.
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That is bad news for those hoping for a summer holiday abroad. Patel told a news conference that the government advice remains “very clear: nothing but essential travel” outside the country.
Arrivals will be tracked
Arriving passengers will have to provide contact details and will be checked on regularly during the two weeks, the government said. They will also be “encouraged” to download a contact-tracing app that authorities are developing.
Breaches can be punished with a 1,000 pound ($1,700 Cdn) spot fine, or by prosecution and an unlimited fine.
There has been confusion about the U.K. policy, after the government initially said it would not apply to people arriving from France. That prompted a rebuke from the European Union, which wants a co-ordinated policy across the 27-nation bloc.
Britain later said France would not be exempt.
Airlines have warned the British move could hobble their efforts to rebuild a business devastated by pandemic-related travel restrictions.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of the industry group Airlines U.K., said a blanket quarantine was “just about the worst thing government could do if their aim is to restart the economy.”