Quarantine measures for travellers arriving in UK to be announced

Visitors and Britons returning from abroad will be required to self-isolate for two weeks

Travellers arriving at Heathrow airport’s Terminal 2 on Monday.




Travellers arriving at Heathrow airport’s Terminal 2 on Monday.
Photograph: Amer Ghazzal/REX/Shutterstock

Travellers into the UK will be quarantined for two weeks when they arrive as part of measures to prevent a second peak of the coronavirus pandemic, Boris Johnson is expected to say on Sunday.

In his address to the nation, when he will present his roadmap out of the lockdown, he will announce the introduction of quarantine measures for people who arrive at airports, ports and Eurostar train stations, including for Britons returning from abroad.

People will be asked to provide the address at which they will self-isolate for two weeks on arrival by filling out a digital form, according to a report in the Times.

The measures are due to start in June. Travellers from the Channel Islands, Ireland and the Isle of Man will be exempt and it is understood key workers and lorry drivers bringing in goods would also be exempt from the requirements.

The Times reports that despite concerns that the UK was continuing to allow people to fly in as the death rate soared last month, ministers insisted that introducing a quarantine system would not have made a difference, because of the prevalence of the disease in the country.

Visitors to Britain and those returning home have so far been able to arrive without a temperature check or the requirement to self-isolate.


Figures released to Labour MP Stephen Doughty showed that fewer than 300 people arriving in the UK were quarantined in the run-up to coronavirus lockdown on 23 March. The Home Office figures showed that just 273 of about 18.1 million arrivals had to spend time in isolation in the first three months of the year, including passengers on three planes from Wuhan, the centre of the initial outbreak in China.

The BBC reported on Friday night that aviation minister Kelly Tolhurst is expected to discuss the proposals with airline and airport representatives in a conference call on Saturday morning.

In a statement released to the BBC, the industry body Airlines UK said: “We need to see the details of what they are proposing.”

Airlines UK has previously warned that a 14-day period of quarantine for passengers would “effectively kill international travel to and from the UK” and cause “immeasurable damage to the aviation industry and wider UK economy. Nobody is going to go on holiday if they’re not able to resume normal life for 14 days, and business travel would be severely restricted”.

Q&A

What does the ‘R’ number of coronavirus mean?

R, or the ‘effective reproduction number’, is a way of rating a disease’s ability to spread. It’s the average number of people on to whom one infected person will pass the virus. For an R of anything above 1, an epidemic will grow exponentially. Anything below 1 and an outbreak will fizzle out – eventually.

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the estimated R for coronavirus was between 2 and 3 – higher than the value for seasonal flu, but lower than for measles. That means each person would pass it on to between two and three people on average, before either recovering or dying, and each of those people would pass it on to a further two to three others, causing the total number of cases to snowball over time.

The reproduction number is not fixed, though. It depends on the biology of the virus; people’s behaviour, such as social distancing; and a population’s immunity. 

Hannah Devlin Science correspondent

The idea of a quarantine has been mooted for some time, and transport secretary Grant Shapps has hinted at such a measure once the infection rate within the country is under control so the government is sure that the illness is not being imported.

Shapps told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday: “I think it is important that as we are seeing the numbers decrease and the R rate we hope decrease … that we do ensure that the sacrifices in a sense – social distancing – that we are asking the British people to make are matched by anybody who comes to this country.

“I am actively looking at these issues right now so that when we have infection rates within the country under control we are not importing.”

However, questions will be raised as to why this measure was not introduced sooner, and what the scientific reasoning is for it to be introduced at this point in the government’s response. Other countries, including Australia and New Zealand, ordered 14-day isolation periods for visitors as early as March.