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.

14 Day Quarantine, Maybe?

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.

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.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

Join the Conversation

12 Comments

  1. I couldn’t agree more, this really feels like the horse has bolted and we are now looking to close the stable door.

    I really do not understand the thinking here, its to late to follow the NZ/AUS route and if you did want to follow what they did down under then why is the policy so vague and full of exceptions (France is OK, travel by car/train etc from anywhere is OK?)

  2. “Lockdown orders remain in place, which effectively counts as quarantine”

    No, they are not the same. Under these new rules, a person with Covid-19 will not be able to go to work, the supermarket, parks or anywhere outside their place of quarantine. Isn’t that the whole point?

    1. How do they know a person has covid-19? There’s no health screening or mention of testing? Other countries, such as Austria are using 14 day quarantine for anyone who test positive, but life as normal for those who return a negative result. The whole point is that no logical solution has been offered, at a time when the stable has been left open so long, all the escaped horses have now had grandchildren.

  3. Of course it would be ideal to test everyone coming in and only quarantine those who are infected. Given that this is operationally not possible (we can only hope that we will eventually have that level of testing capacity), it makes sense to quarantine everyone coming in. This is the same approach adopted in countries like Singapore.

    Would you rather everyone who comes into the UK (which would include people who are infected) be free to move around in your local supermarkets, workplaces and parks? Of course this measure came too late but surely better late than never?

      1. So the answer is to just let in even more people without any quarantine regardless of whether they are infected? Is there a point in trying to bring down the local infection numbers if more infected people just come in? Note that a lot of countries have stopped allowing non-citizens from coming in altogether. A two weeks quarantine seems reasonable enough in that context.

  4. @George – there is no clarity on when the gov plan to introduce this. IMHO its actually more damaging to have a half arsed policy rather than none at all in this instance.

    What damage is this doing to the lives of those in the travel industry now? How can you make plans around such vague announcements? And why is our closest neighbour (France) who is the gateway to the rest of EU exempt, plus why only air?

  5. I agree that this is going to have a negative impact on the aviation industry. Have you however weighed that against the impact of unrestricted importation of the virus on the entire UK? Are the people in Australia languishing right now just because the Australian aviation sector is not doing well?

    I see that you have avoided my earlier questions. Until we have a vaccine, it seems right to try to bring down the possible avenues for infection as much as possible. It seems illogical to try to minimise local infections while leaving the door open for imported transmissions. The argument that there are already a lot of local cases just doesn’t hold water.

    On the policy for excluding travellers from France, I agree that it doesn’t make sense. On a whole however, I don’t think the policy is that difficult to understand. Upon arrival in the UK, quarantine for 14 days.

    1. Nobody has done the number of non-covid deaths caused by lockdowns, it seems covid trumps all ATM.

      There are estimates of an additional 20k cancer related deaths likely due to patients no longer being seen early enough, and thats just cancer, what about all other “non essential” appointments being delayed.

      Aussie and NZ arent out of the woods, they are simply an island now, a group of islands that can not afford to open their borders.

      Whilst the Sweden model was far from perfect they seem to have thought more long term about their solution and they haven’t gone “all in” and then sit on their hands until a vaccine is produced.

      Already more info about what Boris said last night e.g. he implied it would only affect people coming by air, now it transpires it actually applies to all international travellers (bar the exceptions (which again isnt clear!!))

      Anyways, i dont have the answers, but i expect more from the government, yesterdays announcement was too much waffle/bluster and not enough substance.

      The one leaf Boris could take from NZs lead is their clear and concise messaging. Less waffle, more facts.

  6. I think the clarity would have helped because we all hate uncertainty. Also, tests are not accurate for Covid-19 as of now, not enough tests available, maybe that is partially why. but you have to keep in mind people are dying because of this disease, so is it ok to kill some people because a particular industry is struggling?

  7. No matter what argument is put foward about a 14 day isolation period being a good thing it just does not wash. The guy on here talking about a vaccine first is delusional. It is already stated in facts and figures that prospective incoming travellers do not increase numbers significantly in anyway and what is the point in now bringing this in when all countries have been self isolating for 6 weeks plus like us and are now looking at lifting 14 day periods. If someone returns from abroad say from holiday they would social distance anyway as they would have done when abroad. If they need to wear a mask for 14 days for work then employers would implement this which cancels out that issue. If the Government make wearing a mask compulsory on public transport that cancels that issue as well as well as masks on planes if they want to. As mentioned social distancing is in place anyway so 14 days is a total waste of times. You can not hold all others accountable for failings in care homes etc , Sweden have also had the same issues. Brits that go abroad will undertake and abide by any rules that are required because we are British. The younger ones that is for the areas in question to look at. But singles, couples and families will abide by the rules 100%. So don’t ruin our lives to make a point.

Leave a comment