How do you know something is idiotic? When even the greatest supporters of safety nets, social distancing and beating the global pandemic almost unanimously agree that something lacks clarity, focus of effectiveness. After weeks of media speculation, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson took to television over the weekend to officially declare plans for a 14 day quarantine of arriving passengers.
Unfortunately, he didn’t say when, or how.
The move, regarded as two months too late, now creates a fresh wave of concern, with few of the incredibly scarce details lining up. Here’s what’s known, and what’s wrong with the UK’s idiotic 14 day quarantine plan.
During Sunday’s televised public address, Boris Johnson specifically noted plans to impose a 14 day quarantine on travelers entering the UK, including residents returning from abroad.
With lock down restrictions still in effect, it’s hard to begin to understand how this quarantine would be fundamentally different to what any traveler or returning UK resident faces anyway, an issue only exacerbated by not clearly specifying. Travel is effectively closed anyway, so why make things more complicated?
Whereas most countries closed borders in some form or another during the worst moments of the pandemic to great effect, the UK never did, which makes the timing here incredibly odd. More than 10,000 air travel passengers have entered the UK since the lock down went into force.
The early moves were by no means easy calls, but allowed countries to subsequently set dates when travel could reopen with opportunities to avoid quarantine, such as a cheek swab result for covid-19. The UK never pursued eradication of covid-19, like New Zealand, but rather a policy of suppression.
A 14 day quarantine puts an end to incoming travel, with very few travelers afforded the luxury of 14 days to spare camped in a hotel room, only to then be allowed outside, with nothing open in the way of restaurants, cafes, bars or attractions.
The move means any Brits considering a trip abroad would have to then account for 14 days of work from home isolation, which would be a deal breaker for many prospective UK holiday makers. With no start, or end date to these vague plans in sight, it’s shaken the confidence of UK travelers hopeful for one socially distant summer getaway, after months of cabin fever.
Worse, it means many travelers will lose out on refund rights, since flights will fly, but the 14 day quarantine will prohibit people from taking planned trips. Read up more here.
With the lack of support for the UK aviation sector thus far, and the blindsiding quarantine announcement, one could wonder whether Boris once had a bad holiday, and wishes to punish the travel sector indefinitely, without merit or science as the reason. Even those most in favor of eradication measures question the timing and efficiency of such a move.
The news comes in the same weeks EU countries began speaking up about reopening borders and tourism, as well as measures to allow passengers to avoid 14 days of quarantine. Already, holes are being poked in the validity, or efficacy of such a policy.
- Lockdown orders remain in place, which effectively counts as quarantine. They apply to any visitor or returning citizen, and with pubs, clubs and restaurants closed, it’s not like people have anywhere to go. Very few travelers are coming, and this only creates confusion.
- In breaking news, France was named alongside Ireland as countries where no quarantine on incoming passengers would be put in place. This prompted a tweet showcasing pictures from a ransacked and crowded Gare Du Nord Station, highlighting how bad an idea that might be.
- No end date for such a quarantine has been offered, which crushes confidence in the travel sector which was only just beginning to take steps towards regaining it. The move blindsided airlines, and will make needs for financial assistance just to survive, even more grave.
- Countries are exploring covid testing in advance of flights, which would allow those who return a safe result to skip quarantine, thus creating opportunity for safe travel and commerce.
All crowd and no social distancing at Paris gare du Nord early this morning. Shows how tricky exiting from lockdown will be. UK govt comms could still be better than “a sketch of a road map” with levels and steps and a mountain #COVID19 https://t.co/BKlw4byCNk
— Lionel Barber (@lionelbarber) May 11, 2020
Early quarantines and entry restrictions killed incoming travel at a time when countries could not cope with any added risk. It worked, and allowed countries to not worry about the weaker links which may exist outside their own borders.
Suggestions of a better move generally converge on the UK effectively closing travel entirely up to a certain date, so as to drop the “R” lower in the interim, and allow other countries to do the same.
Virtually all of Asia was closed off to outsiders, and Europe put a proverbial fence around its external border to stem the flow of new and unpredictable clusters. Case counts dropped and the worst was avoided. All the while, passengers arrived into Heathrow without so much as a temperature check leaving many wondering – why now?
Now that in Boris’s own words, the worst case scenarios have been avoided, it’s quizzical as to how this 14 day quarantine move adds any benefit to outweigh the enormous cons. Airlines will now lose out on a further slice of the summer season, and yet another example of classism will hit the broader travel world until plans are amended.
Well heeled individuals with the option or privilege to work from home will be able to travel, but those who must physically report to work to fulfill their job won’t be able to, since 14 days of quarantine for a discretionary trip is unlikely to go down well with bosses. With no mention of safe ways to bypass quarantine measures for those who can prove their health, it’s hard to see logic.
Roads To Reopening
If the UK had closed borders alongside the rest of the world 2 months ago, a clearer picture would now exist for a future where travelers can visit the UK, and citizens can travel abroad without facing prohibitive measures upon return. Hindsight is 2020, but opportunity still exists to get things right.
Placing a 14 day quarantine on any travelers who test positive for covid-19 is essential, without question, but what about everyone else?,
Taking information off of passengers, such as seating assignment and place of residence during quarantine makes sense, as does collecting valid contact information, and optional social tracing. But for passengers who return negative results, and submit to health screening, the costs of such a quarantine outweigh any safety provided, and an alternative to avoid it should be provided.
The world now turns its eyes to Greece and Austria, the two countries leading the way with testing in advance of being allowed to board a flight to either country. If successful, it will play a huge roll in avoiding large clusters on flights or across borders, allowing the world a chance to reopen tourism, which accounts for more than 27,000,000 jobs in the EU alone.