What are the current quarantine rules for UK arrivals?
All international passengers need to complete the Public Health passenger locator form (PLF) online, no sooner than 48 hours before their scheduled arrival in the UK. This includes passport details; tour operator name (if applicable); departure and arrival port/airport, along with the address they’ll be staying at for the first 14 days in the UK. When arriving at the border, they’ll need to present the document and QR code attached to the confirmation email.
As well using this information to check those returning countries not on the travel corridor list are self-isolating, it can also be used to contact travellers if a fellow passenger tests positive for Covid. Travellers can receive a fixed penalty notice (FPN) of £100 if they refuse to provide contact details, and repeat offenders could face court action.
Anyone caught breaking quarantine faces a fine of up to £1,000 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and £480 in Scotland; persistent offenders can be fined up to £5,000.
What if I haven’t filled in the form in advance?
Border Force is carrying out spot checks at airports, seaports, Eurostar stations and Eurotunnel terminals. If travellers arrive without a completed form, they will be asked to complete one on arrival. Anyone refusing to complete one would face a fixed penalty notice (FPN) of £100.
Between 6 June and 12 July, 383,000 spot checks were carried out according to the Home Office. Only 10 FPNs have been issued by Border Force so far.
“They are endeavouring to do as many [spot checks] as they can. But it has got to be balanced against other factors, such as the public health risk of passengers queuing in a confined space,” said Hannah Dawson, a Home Office spokesperson.
“Our understanding is that there are sufficient numbers of spot checks taking place at borders, and we are continuing to see high levels of compliance when forms are being checked.
“The vast majority of people [who refused] will then fill it in after being fined – if they don’t, it can be escalated further in terms of a criminal offence, but that hasn’t been necessary so far.”
What happens if I don’t quarantine?
Public Health England (PHE) will carry out spot checks on those who should be self-isolating through its “Isolation Assurance Service”. PHE says that it “randomly samples around 1,000 eligible arrivals per day into England and Northern Ireland and limited details are securely passed to a contractor to make the calls.”
The system relies on phoning passengers and asking them to state they are self-isolating. To date, it has seen “a high level of compliance” with the “vast majority” of people contacted confirming that they are self-isolating for two weeks. Those who do not answer should expect to receive three calls over three days, and a text message on the fourth. If PHE still can’t contact passengers or it is concerned they aren’t complying, their details are passed on to the Home Office and Police triage, “who make decisions regarding further action”.
National Police Chief Council (NPCC) figures show that a total of three fines have been issued to people failing to self isolate in England.
Can I still travel to a country that’s not on the travel corridor list?
If international trains or flights are still operating there is nothing to stop UK residents travelling, as long as restrictions are not also being imposed in the destination, so they should check before they travel. Travellers can choose to go on holiday and accept the 14-day quarantine on their return to the UK – but be aware that if the FCO advises against all but essential travel to a destination, most travel insurance policies will be void. Most policies cover medical expenses for those who were already in a country before an announcement was made, but people who travel after the advice changes won’t get help with hospital bills.
Is testing likely to replace quarantine soon?
There is growing demand for testing to replacequarantine, from both the travel industry and travellers.
“If we are going to learn to live with Covid, there have to be alternatives to quarantine,” says Paul Charles, of travel PR firm the PC agency, and former spokesperson for Quash Quarantine, which paused campaigning after successfully fighting a blanket quarantine. “The government has been lagging behind. Even extensive trials now are important, because quarantine can’t continue much longer. I think many people are prepared to pay for tests as well.”
Heathrow says it is ready to launch a new Covid test centre, which could start rapid testing of passengers arriving at Terminal 2 as soon as the government gives it the go-ahead. It has the capacity to test more than 13,000 passengers a day (for a fee), who would find out their results within 24 hours, replacing the need for a 14-day quarantine. Operators say second test centre will be ready at Terminal 5 by the end of August, and both are scalable according to demand.
However, despite reports that the government was meeting to discuss potential plans this week, a formal announcement is yet to be made.
“We acknowledge that quarantine is deeply inconvenient for people, especially if they are in a country where the travel corridor has been dropped while they are out there, but I believe the Department for Health’s stance is that testing is still not operational at airports because you could be carrying the virus and not test positive at that stage but then test positive two days later. So it’s not a foolproof system,” said Dawson at the Home Office.