Travellers returning to the UK from “red list” countries will be sent to quarantine hotels for 10 days, Boris Johnson has announced. People will also be required to fill in a form explaining why their trip is necessary, with enforcement stepped up at airports to prevent leisure travel.
The Prime Minister told the Commons that passengers will be “met at the airport and transported directly into quarantine”.
He did not reveal the list of destinations for which the new policy will apply, but a travel industry source told the PA news agency it will include all of South America, southern Africa and Portugal.
Kenya, Ethiopia, the United Arab Emirates and Nigeria could also be added.
Passengers will be “met at the airport and transported directly into quarantine”, Mr Johnson explained.
The cost of staying in one of these hotels has not been disclosed.
Setting out more details of the measures, Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “Despite the stay-at-home regulations we are still seeing people not complying with these rules.
“The rules are clear, people should be staying at home unless they have a valid reason to leave.
“Going on holiday is not a valid reason, so we will introduce a new requirement so that people wishing to travel must first make a declaration as to why they need to travel.
“This reason for travel will be checked by carriers prior to departure.”
Travel operators are expected to face fines if they fail to inspect these forms.
Airline bosses are demanding that the Government provides an “urgent road map for the reopening of air travel”.
The chief executives of British Airways, easyJet and Virgin Atlantic were among those calling for the Government to publish a plan that “draws upon the tools available now to us, including testing, working in concert with vaccine rollout at home and internationally”.
They added: “The time has now come for a bespoke support package that can get UK airlines through this crisis.”
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: “Many questions remain about the damage these extra quarantine measures will do to the economy and the travel sector.
“What is the economic impact in terms of lost jobs and likely business failures, and what is the exit plan for ending these restrictive measures?
“It would be much more effective for the Government to put more resources into enforcing quarantine at home. Tougher fines for those not complying and daily physical checks by police, alongside the need to test negative before entry to the UK, would prevent infection spreading.”
Scotland’s First Minister has said Boris Johnson’s proposed visit to Scotland on Thursday is “not essential”. Nicola Sturgeon said there should not be one rule for the public and another for politicians, as the Prime Minister prepares to head north.
But the First Minister stressed she does not want her comments to be interpreted as her saying Mr Johnson is not welcome in Scotland.
Under current regulations put in place by the Scottish Government, only people making essential journeys across the border are allowed to enter Scotland.
Similar regulations are also in place to stop travel across council boundaries within Scotland.
Speaking at the Scottish Government’s coronavirus briefing on Wednesday, Ms Sturgeon said: “I would say me travelling from Edinburgh to Aberdeen to visit a vaccination centre right now is not essential, and Boris Johnson travelling from London to wherever he is in Scotland to do the same is not essential.
“If we’re asking other people to abide by that, then I’m sorry but it’s probably incumbent on us to do likewise.
“I am not and never would be saying that Boris Johnson is not welcome in Scotland – he’s the Prime Minister of the UK.
“We’re living in a global pandemic right now.
“Every day I look down the camera and say… don’t travel unless it’s really essential, work from home if you possibly can.
“We have a duty to lead by example and if we are going to suggest that we don’t take these rules as seriously as we should, it gets harder to convince other people.
“That’s why I’m perhaps not ecstatic about the thought of the Prime Minister visiting, it’s not because he’s not welcome.”
When asked if she believes the Prime Minister’s visit would break any laws in Scotland, she said: “I’m sure he and his advisers will take great care to make sure he isn’t breaking any laws, I take that as read, but we all need to make judgments on what we genuinely think is essential right now.”
A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said: “It remains the fact that it is a fundamental role of the Prime Minister to be the physical representative of the UK Government, and it’s right he’s visible and accessible to businesses and communities across all parts of the UK – especially during the pandemic.”
When asked about the visit in the House of Commons by SNP MP Neale Hanvey – who described the move as “futile Union Jackery” – Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said: “The Prime Minister is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and wherever he needs to go in his vital work against this pandemic, he will go.”
Lockdown measures will remain in place until at least March 8, Boris Johnson indicated as he earmarked that date for the reopening of England’s schools. The Prime Minister confirmed that hopes of pupils returning to class after the February half-term have been abandoned.
The March date is based on progress in vaccinating the most vulnerable groups in society by mid-February and then giving the jab time to take effect.
Mr Johnson also set out tougher measures to prevent the arrival of new strains of coronavirus into the UK, confirming plans for a 10-day quarantine in hotels or other government-provided accommodation for travellers from high-risk countries.
In a Commons statement after the UK’s death toll passed 100,000, he said he would set out the Government’s strategy for the “gradual and phased” easing of lockdown in the week beginning February 22.
But with reopening schools the Government’s top priority, it seems unlikely that other lockdown restrictions will be eased before classes return.
England’s schools are currently closed to all but vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers.
The Prime Minister told MPs: “The first sign of normality beginning to return should be pupils going back to their classrooms.”
But he said the UK remains in a “perilous situation, with more than 37,000 patients now in hospital with Covid – almost double the peak of the first wave”.
By mid-February much more will be known about the effect of vaccines in preventing hospital admissions and deaths, he said.
In the week commencing February 22, the Government will “publish our plan for taking the country out of lockdown”.
“That plan will, of course, depend on the continued success of our vaccination programme, the capacity of the NHS, and on deaths falling at the pace we would expect as more people are inoculated,” Mr Johnson added.
Boris Johnson is due to set out a “road map” next month for how England emerges from the lockdown. The Prime Minister said last week the “far more sensible approach” is to reopen “safely and cautiously”.
Here is a look at some of the questions around what an eventual lifting of restrictions might look like.
– What is likely to reopen first?
Schools. Mr Johnson has previously written that “keeping our schools closed a moment longer than absolutely necessary is socially intolerable, economically unsustainable and morally indefensible”.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said that “education will continue to be our priority”.
He added: “Throughout the pandemic we’ve done everything we can to keep schools open, I continue to think that was the right call.”
Hinting that primary schools might reopen first, vaccine deployment minister Nadhim Zahawi has said studies about infection rates at primary schools had been “encouraging”.
Infection rates are much lower among primary school children, he said, adding that rates are around five times higher in secondary schools.
– What about hospitality?
Earlier this month, some researchers suggested bars and restaurants should stay shut until May.
Dr Marc Baguelin, from Imperial College London, who sits on the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) which advises the Government, said the opening of the hospitality sector before then would lead to another “bump” in transmission.
The British Beer and Pub Association has called for the Government to lay out a “clear road map” for the sector, warning that the prospect of places being forced to shut until May requires an extension of financial support “for them to survive and to brewers whose businesses also face jeopardy”.
– And how does it look for travel?
Airline bosses are demanding that the Government provides an “urgent road map for the reopening of air travel” ahead of an expected announcement confirming the introduction of quarantine hotels for arrivals.
Whitehall sources have suggested ministers may opt to make quarantine hotels mandatory for people arriving in England from coronavirus hotspots, rather than all destinations.
Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, said quarantine hotels are “absolutely essential” and suggested the lack of quarantine measures earlier in the pandemic had been “a major factor” in contributing to the current situation.
Ministers have warned in recent days that it is “too early” to speculate around holiday plans, but Health Secretary Matt Hancock has previously said: “I think we’re going to have a great British summer.”
– What have the some of the top medics and scientists said about easing restrictions?
England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has warned even a “very small change” while cases are high could cause a rapid resurgence, while chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance has warned against “getting too hooked” on specific dates for easing measures.