A 14-day quarantine for visitors to Britain is expected to be announced by ministers this week and could be in place until an airport test for Covid-19 is available.
Home Secretary Priti Patel is due to set out new plans for the UK’s borders within the next three days.
The quarantine is expected to be time-limited with a “sunset” clause that would allow the Government to review it after a set period.
This would permit the introduction of an alternative coronavirus test at airports and ports at some point in the future if officials establish that it is feasible.
© GETTY IMAGES Heathrow Airport – – GETTY IMAGES
Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister who has been leading on the quarantine plans, is understood to be keen for onsite coronavirus testing in airports to enable passengers to avoid having to be quarantined for a fortnight.
However sources said it was unlikely this could be put in place in time for the expected announcement of the quarantine plans in the middle of this week. “You would need 10,000-plus a day for it to work,” said one Whitehall source.
“It is a prick test that tells if you are positive for coronavirus and it is possible it could be delivered in four to six weeks. Michael [Gove] has got officials to look into it.”
The finger-prick test is one of “a lot of suggestions and ideas being looked at” as part of cross-government work on how to manage borders in relation to infection risk, a government source said on Sunday, adding that a quick on-site test for the virus which could be appropriate for such use is not yet available.
The quarantine is expected to cover all arrivals from all countries apart from passengers from the common travel area including Ireland, Guernsey and Jersey.
Moves to exempt France were ditched last week and any border restrictions or exemptions will be identical between the countries.
There will be a “limited” range of job specific exemptions which will primarily include “frontier workers” which covers freight drivers who will be allowed in to drop off their loads before immediately leaving.
Other exemptions from the required 14 days self-isolation on arrival in the UK are expected to include some business people, freight drivers, doctors and scientists.
© Kirsty O’Connor/PA Wire/PA Images People in Terminal 2 arrivals at London Heathrow, Airport Operators Association (AOA) chief executive Karen Dee said she has not received any details yet about a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all travellers into the UK.
Meanwhile ministers have been warned that any quarantine for UK arrivals must be as short as possible to help the British economy recover.
Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said that getting people flying again would be an “incredibly big boost for your economy” and that aerospace and manufacturing industries really worried about quarantine.
She called for an “international standard” to be established for borer policies relating to the virus. “At the moment you’ve got different countries doing different things and that is very bad for global trade,” she said.
“We do ask the Government to think very carefully about how this is introduced so that it doesn’t put the brakes on our economy in this fragile recovery.”
© PA Wire/PA Images Screen grab of Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove answering questions from the media via a video link during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by PA Video/PA Images via Getty Images)
Meanwhile John Holland-Kaye, the chief executive of Heathrow airport, suggested the government should allow “free flow” of people from countries with low risk of Covid-19.
He said: “I think that if the UK Government, with one of the biggest aviation sectors in the world, were to get together with the European Union and the United States, between them they have the heft and the global, diplomatic and economic power to set that international standard.
“I think the approach to take is the risk-based approach as we do with security, where if two countries are very low-risk free of transmission, there should be a free flow of passengers between those countries.”
Mr Holland-Kaye welcomed the idea of “immunity passports” but said: “It’s no good the UK having a health passport if another country has an entirely different system.
© Heathrow Airport/PA Wire/PA Images Undated handout photo of a thermal image of a person. Heathrow is to begin temperature screening of passengers, several weeks after the measure was deployed by many other major airports around the world.
“We need to have that commonality between markets so that we know your health passport is accepted in the country you’re going to.
The Heathrow boss said aviation is the “lifeblood” of the UK’s economy, telling Sky News: “So many manufacturers rely on the supply chain coming by air, their exports go by air.”
He added: “The quarantine cannot be in place for more than a relatively short period of time if we are going to get the economy moving again.”
“There needs to be a plan for what comes next. We need the government to help develop [an] international standard so that traffic can continue to flow between low-risk countries.”