UK quarantine rule exists only in the minds of ministers - GulfToday

UK quarantine rule exists only in the minds of ministers

Sean O'Grady


Associate Editor of the Independent.


Pedro Sanchez, Priti Patel.

The Prime Minister of Spain, Pedro Sanchez, feels that the British government’s approach to the coronavirus crisis and tourism is “unjust”. Well, he should try living in Britain (or, better still, running it). Most of what the government does about anything is unjust. It’s one of the reasons we’re in such a mess right across the board.

In any case, Sanchez is quite right. There are parts of Spain with a high and rising infection rate that are cause for alarm, being Catalonia and Aragon; but there are the many other parts, such as the Mediterranean and Atlantic islands far away, or say Asturias, where the rates are far lower than the UK. Is it beyond the wit of our border police and the insurance industry to be able to distinguish between holiday destinations? Where has our Great British common sense gone when we need it?

As it happens, in reality the British quarantine regime exists only in the minds of ministers. You may recall that, for a few weeks recently, just to be seen to be “doing something”, Priti Patel slapped a blanket 14-day quarantine requirement on anyone coming into Britain from abroad.

Landing cards were filled out and stern warnings were issued about £1,000 fines if you set foot outside your designated address. They were comprehensively ignored, people were waved through passport control, went where they wanted, some no doubt more restrained than others, no one checked on them and there were no fines.

That’s what “taking back control of our borders” looks like, eh? We do not live in a country where thousands of people can be placed under house arrest, even if it’s a good idea.

So if you’re returning home from Tenerife what are the chances you’ll obey strict lockdown, only going out for essentials? What is the incentive to do so? Doing the right thing? Yes, but not when the risks are acknowledged to be known to be very low – and under the Cummings Convention we are allowed to do “the right thing”.

What if your employer requires you to come to work? There is no sick pay or assurance for people to “do the right thing”, and faced with the choice of pay and a job, or taking a risk, they will surely take that risk. I suspect that those of us still more inclined to stay indoors and save lives won’t be getting on a plane to Spain this year anyway, but those who’ve decided to take their chances and fly off will be more inclined to ignore restrictions when they get back to Blighty.

So the 14-day quarantine rule will be completely ineffective except to act as some deterrent to people going on holiday to Spain or anywhere else. A minister, Simon Clarke, came on the radio this morning to flatten the sombreros of the entire travel and tourism trade, telling anyone looking to eke out something from this miserable summer “by all means go on holiday but understand that there is a chance you may be asked to self-isolate upon your return”.

He said it as if it was the most natural thing in the world, a minor inconvenience like a one-day tummy upset, something that shouldn’t really put anyone off their dream vacation. He was not convincing. He’d not make a great tour guide.

I suppose everyone could just head for Gibraltar instead, which is still on the “exempt” list for travel. It might get a bit crowded. Gibraltar, of course, is adjacent to Spain, and geographically part of Iberia, but unlike Portugal and Spain the Foreign Office says it is completely safe to travel there. Because we all know, don’t we, that having a Union Jack waving over our heads is the best possible protection from coronavirus.

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