Travellers arriving in the UK from 8 June will have to tell the authorities where they will be staying and face spot checks to ensure they quarantine themselves for fourteen days, the home secretary, Priti Patel, has confirmed.
All new arrivals, including UK citizens, will be expected to fill in an online “contact locator form”, including onward travel information. Failure to do so is punishable by a £100 fine.
Patel said: “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.
“We are introducing these new measures now to keep the transmission rate down and prevent a devastating second wave.
“Arrivals will be required to travel directly from their port or airport of arrival, preferably by car, to an address where they must then self-isolate for a fortnight.
“The details they provide the authorities will allow them to be traced, if someone they travelled with subsequently contracts the disease, and public health authorities will be also be able to check up to ensure the quarantine rules are being obeyed.
“Anyone failing to comply could face a fine of £1,000. Patel said: “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.”
If their planned accommodation does not satisfy the authorities, arrivals will be put up in facilities arranged by the government, the Home Office says.
They will also be encouraged to download the contact tracing app, once it is available.
Downing Street conceded this week that the app, which is being piloted on the Isle of Wight, will not be ready in time for 1 June, when the human-based track and test system is expected to start working.
The stringent new system will be reviewed every three weeks. The government confirmed there will be exemptions for freight drivers; doctors and scientists working on the pandemic; and fruit pickers, who will be expected to confine themselves to the farms where they work.
Ministers have encouraged students and furloughed workers to “pick for Britain”, amid fears that the usual influx of overseas pickers will not materialise, leaving crops rotting in the fields.
The government is also leaving open the possibility of “air bridges” – an idea floated by the transport secretary, Grant Shapps. The UK would seek to strike bilateral agreements with countries with low incidence of Covid-19 under which quarantine restrictions could be waived.
The regime will be in place across the UK, though devolved administrations are expected to publish details of how they will implement it.
The move is likely to rekindle the debate about why ministers did not restrict travel from areas affected by coronavirus much earlier in the outbreak.
Papers published by the Sage group of scientific experts on Friday showed that its modelling group SPI-M-O suggested on 3 February that restricting travel from badly hit areas, including China, could delay the onset of the disease in the UK by up to a fortnight.
“Based on current information on doubling times from China, the average delay expected to result from a 90% reduction of travel from China may be up to two weeks,” the experts said at the time.
They cautioned that preventing direct arrivals from China alone would have had a smaller impact, because of the risk of infected people coming via third countries.