The UK has ramped up its Covid border control measures in light of a new Covid variant that has been reported from South Africa and in order not to undermine the success of its vaccine programme, which is now well underway in the country.
The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock announced, in an official government statement, that while it was currently illegal to travel abroad without a legally permitted reason to do so (so not for holidays and other leisure purposes), for those minority few that were travelling for ‘exceptional purposes’, they would be subject to a ‘specific compliance regime and end-to-end checks’ throughout their journey in the UK.
Mandatory hotel quarantine
As part of the strict new rules, from 11 February, any returning UK and Irish resident that has been in a Red Zone country (of which there are currently around 33) in the last 10 days must book and pay for a quarantine package – costing £1,750 for an individual travelling alone (a package that includes a quarantine hotel, transport and testing). Mandatory hotel quarantining is already a requirement of inbound travel to Scotland.
Separately, the government notes that the two Covid tests that individuals are required to take must be done on day two and day eight after arriving. While these are listed as being included within the hotel quarantine costs, the government adds that any individuals testing positive will be required to quarantine for a further 10 days from the date of the test – either at home or in a hotel. Whether or not they will then also have to pay for a further series of tests is unclear, but the cost of each test is around £100.
Travellers are required to reserve a hotel room online in advance using a booking system that will launch on 11 February. Reports note that airlines and travel companies will be legally required to ensure that travellers sign up for the new measures before they depart, and face fines if these are not upheld. Travellers also risk a fine for not complying.
Hefty fine and prison sentences for rulebreakers
Hancock notes that for any individual that fails to comply with the new regulations, a hefty fine will be coming their way: a £1,000 penalty for any international arrival who fails to take a mandatory test; a £2,000 penalty to any international arrival who fails to take the second mandatory test, as well as automatically extending their quarantine period to 14 days; and a £5,000 fixed penalty notice, rising to £10,000, for arrivals who fail to quarantine in a designated hotel.
In addition, Hancock said: “Anyone who lies on a passenger locator form, and tries to conceal that they’ve been in a country on our red list in the 10 days before arrival here, will face a prison sentence of up to 10 years.”
Hancock added that he ‘made no apologies for the strength of these measures’.
UK leisure travel to open up sooner rather than later
While some argue that this latest move will further hinder the already-struggling airline industry,some, including UK travel firm Tui believe that thanks to the vaccination programme, the UK will be one of the first of its major source market to reopen borders and restart leisure travel.
Indeed, Tui Chief Executive Fritz Joussen revealed that 50 per cent (of a total of 2.8 million) of its summer vacation bookings currently in the system were from the UK. Joussen also noted that holidays to Greece from the UK looked likely to restart as early as April.
New cases of South Africa variant increasingly reported
Back in mid-January, the UK banned travel from South America over a new strain of coronavirus identified there. Now, cases of a South Africa variant have been reported in the UK. Further afield, the Austrian region of Tyrol has gone into lockdown following new cases of the same variant.
While recent trials have revealed that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has low efficacy against the new South African variant, experts insist that individuals still take whatever jab they are offered, as the vaccines continued to offer relief to healthcare systems as they still reduced large numbers of severe coronavirus hospitalisations.