Priti Patel has announced the unprecedented measure of requiring travellers to the UK to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival.
Introducing an open-ended quarantine plan to begin on 8 June, the home secretary 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.”
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Ms Patel added: “This is absolutely not about booking holidays.”
The UK travel industry reacted furiously, accusing the home secretary of wiping out any further bookings for 2020 holidays.
“On the day that 1,000s more jobs are lost, the politicians still can’t resist sticking the boot in.”
The chief executive of Manchester Airports Group, which has handled tens of thousands of repatriated British travellers over the past two months, was equally blunt.
Charlie Cornish described the move as “a brick wall to the recovery of the UK aviation and tourism industries, with huge consequences for UK jobs and GDP”.
The airport boss said: “The move will seriously jeopardise the long-term future of the sector and put tens of thousands of jobs, and billions of pounds of economic value, at risk.”
The apparently tough new Home Office rules stipulate a £1,000 fixed penalty for skipping self-isolation in England. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will impose their own fines for breaches of quarantine.
Yet travellers keen to avoid the new measures can either arrive by midnight on 7 June or choose between two “Dublin dodges”.
Any UK-bound passenger can easily circumvent the obligation to isolate for two weeks by travelling via the Irish capital.
As a member of the Common Travel Area, Ireland has exemption from UK quarantine – alongside the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.
Ireland has its own quarantine requirement of 14 days in self-isolation for incoming travellers. But Ireland’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) waives the rule for passengers en route to the UK.
The first “Dublin dodge” is to book a flight from a foreign country to the Irish capital on Aer Lingus with an immediate connection on the same airline to a UK airport – primarily Heathrow.
Alternatively, the traveller can touch down at Dublin airport and declare an intention to travel immediately to Northern Ireland on a direct bus from Dublin airport.
The airport authority says: “HSE rules for arriving passengers do not apply if you are briefly stopping over at the airport on your way to another country [or] travelling onwards to Northern Ireland.”
At present the Northern Ireland Executive does not allow leisure trips, saying: “No-one may leave their home without reasonable excuse.” Transit to Great Britain for leisure purposes does not count.
But in anticipation of lockdown rules being eased across Great Britain and the island of Ireland, one short-break specialist has already announced plans to exploit the loopholes via Dublin.
Mike Wooldridge, founder of Flyaway Weekends, said: “We can see a real demand for short-notice travel once restrictions are slackened, and are already looking at offers that divert via Dublin so we’re ready to help plan weekend breaks as demand starts to return.”
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “Anyone travelling from Ireland will be exempt.
“However, given the high levels of compliance we have seen to date, we expect that the majority of people will do the right thing and abide by these measures.”