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Earlier in the day, Sky News reported that the UK government was expected to strengthen its 14-day quarantine policy for those arriving or returning to the country following the end of the current coronavirus lockdown.
Home Secretary Priti Patel confirmed on Friday that the UK would be introducing 14-day quarantine for arrivals, starting from 8 June.
“As the world begins to emerge from what we hope is the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, we must look to the future and protect the British public by reducing the risk of cases crossing our border”, she announced.
“We are introducing these new measures now to keep the transmission rate down and prevent a devastating second wave”.
“I fully expect the majority of people will do the right thing and abide by these measures. But we will take enforcement action against the minority of people who endanger the safety of others”.
The two-week isolation measures will be imposed on all new arrivals to the UK next month. Fines of £1,000 will be given to those who breach the quarantine in order to prevent new cases of coronavirus brought over from overseas spreading throughout the UK.
The Home Secretary said that she recognises how difficult the new rules will be on the travel and leisure sector. She said that the government will provide support and find new ways “to open international travel and tourism”.
International travel and tourism will have to be reopened “in a safe and responsible way”, Priti Patel said.
She also said that the plan will be up for review every 3 weeks.
Direct Questioning From Media
When asked directly if these new measures make it safe to assume that summer holidays will not be taking place this year, the Home Secretary invoked government and the Foreign Commonwealth Office advice to avoid all but “essential travel”.
In response to a question about the risks to the wider community, if schools reopen, she said that they would be following “government and scientistic advice”
“Many schools are already open and doing fantastic work providing schooling kids of key workers and vulnerable children. There are hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children who are safer in schools. On the question of infection control and families, that needs to be looked at … and we are following advice from government and scientistic advice and that is crucial.”
The Home Secretary said that it was “important” to recognise that the number of people travelling to the UK is at “an all-time low” – a 99% reduction compared to the same time last year.
She was asked if measures are being introduced to save lives, why they are being introduced next month and not right away.
“As outlined in my statement, quite clearly, as the of infections drops we haven to manage the risk of external transmission. More people are now traveling and bringing in their own measures. This is about managing the risk of transmission being introduced elsewhere and that is vital so it’s why we are bringing in these measures now. We want to reduce the risk of imported cases to the UK”, she replied.
On the subject of ‘air bridges’, or two-way travel agreements between countries with similar rates of infection, the Home Secretary said that “we should be absolutely open to all ideas”.
“This is not for today but this doesn’t mean we should rule this out in the future”, she said.
The question was asked if front line care workers would receive similar Visa extensions to those given to NHS employees.
She replied saying that across the system “we are supporting front line health and social care workers” and are looking into ways too support other care workers as well across the NHS.
“The immigration system is complex and we are looking at schemes, we keep everything under review”.
The Home Secretary ended the briefing by stressing that the introduction of quarantine measures do not equate to the “closing our borders”.
“These measures will be kept under review and I really do want to emphasis that”, she said.
“What we are seeking to do is control the spread of the virus because we do not want a second wave of this virus”.
Border Enforcement Details
Director General of the UK’s Border Force, Paul Lincoln, said that communications would be expanded to ensure that people are aware of the necessary self-isolation restrictions upon arrival.
Travel plans and details about their location while self-isolating will have to be provided.
Border force will be able to block the entry of any foreign citizens who are not UK residents amid border inspections. Removal from the country can be used as a last resort option, the Home Office announced.
Arrivals by air, sea, or rail will be told to use personal transport to travel to their quarantine location and will not be permitted to leave for 14 days.
Visitors will not be allowed, with the exception of those who are providing essential support. Those in quarantine will not be able to leave for food “where they can rely on others”.
According to the Home Office, the government will arrange self-isolation accommodation in hotels if accommodation is insufficient.
Those who the arrival are staying would not have to remain in quarantine but they are advised to avoid contact where possible.
Where the Infection Rate Stands
Sir Patrick Vallance, the Governments Chief Scientific Adviser, said that the R number (rate of infection) is now between 0.7 and 1, meaning that the outbreak is “either flat or declining in the UK and in most areas it is declining”.
As the R rate declines, new infections will also have to be closely monitored. At present, the UK is seeing 61,000 new infections per week or 1 in 1000 people.
“The epidemic is shrinking and the numbers will come down but we need to keep an eye on them as the lower we can get these numbers the more likely we can release measures”.
Sir Patrick said that the coronavirus is not a three-month epidemic and some kind of social distancing measures will have to remain in place until a vaccine is completed.
“The more we can modify environments to be useful to keep appropriate social distancing the better things are. There are a number of ways and decisions must be based on good scientific principles”, he said.
On schools reopening, Vallance said that it was “important schools must get back for education at some point” but also stressed that the decision must be made at the “right time in an era where social distancing will be in place for some time”.
Sir Patrick acknowledged that reopening schools would like push the R-rate up.
“The risk for children (from coronavirus) is much lower – we know that”
“They are at low risk but not zero risk and there have been some serious cases of children, of course, but very few compared to adults and older age groups”.
He explained that the “broader risk in terms of opening schools” introducing new changes to contact puts “pressure on the R and you put pressure on numbers”, which he said is the case for any “terms of changes to contact”.