Continued Tight UK Self-Isolation Rules Continue to Hammer Tourism Sector

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By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

Light puffy clouds blanketed the skies over the English Channel yesterday, reminding me of that old saw headline: “Fog Over Channel; Continent Cut Off.”

Now for British passport holders, the coronavirus pandemic is limiting their freedom to roam. Not as seriously as it is constraining U.S. passport holders, who are presently banned entirely from entering most EU states (as well as other places). Yet since the U.K. is still hanging onto E.U. membership by its fingernails, the freedom of movement of its citizens can throughout the E.U. only be limited, not blocked entirely.

Nonetheless, according to the Daily Mail, Revealed: There are now just NINE countries – including tiny Gibraltar, San Marino and Liechtenstein – where Britons can travel freely without quarantine or a Covid test – as Denmark, Iceland, Slovakia are latest to be red-flagged:

The list of countries that Britons can travel to and return from without quarantining or taking Covid tests reduced to just nine yesterday.

Ministers removed four more nations from the safe list – Denmark, Iceland, Slovakia and the Caribbean island of Curacao, with quarantine required on return to the UK from tomorrow at 4am.

While there are still more than 60 countries on the UK’s ‘green list’ where quarantine is not required on return, many have their own restrictions on arrival or are closed to visitors completely.

It means holidays are only currently possible without any restrictions to Germany, Poland, Sweden, Italy, Turkey, mainland Greece, Gibraltar, San Marino and Liechtenstein. The last two are so small they don’t have their own airports, meaning just seven true air bridges are in place both ways.

Mainland Greece risks slipping off the list next week as infections there have reached about 20.9 cases per 100,000.

The UK  currently maintains a 14-day, self -solation requirement when travellers return from countries not presently on a green list of safe countries. These draconian requirements are hammering tourism – a mainstay of many European economies –  and have led for calls to replace it with a more nuanced system of flagging infected returning travellers by on-the -spot tests at airports or other border entrances, or requiring prior tests some period before the planned return to the UK:

Downing Street remains under intense pressure to change the UK’s travel quarantine rules amid growing fears for the future of the aviation and travel industries.

Ministers have faced calls for months to replace the current 14 day self-isolation restrictions for people returning to the UK from high risk countries with a more nuanced system of airport testing.

Advocates believe testing on arrival could open the door to significantly reducing the two week quarantine period to potentially less than seven days.

A double testing approach would see travellers tested on arrival and then told to self-isolate for something like five days when they would then be tested for a second time.

Two negative tests would be enough to allow people to end their period in quarantine and return to normal life.

However, ministers have been reluctant to approve airport testing because of concerns that the approach could fail to identify some people who have the virus.

This is because of the amount of time it can take for the virus to be detectable after the moment of infection.

But many MPs believe the current blanket approach to travel quarantine cannot continue for much longer because of the damage it is doing to the aviation sector.

The extensive list of no-go destinations means demand for autumn getaways in Turkey and Italy have risen dramatically amid dwindling options for would-be travellers looking for breaks over the October half-term period.

Yet with the government announcing tough new restrictions on pubs and restaurants this week, is is unlikely to relax rules on returning tourists anytime soon. Yet continuing carnage in the airline sector and the reality that COVID-19 is here indefinitely — and a vaccine is unlikely anytime soon — may leave it with little choice than to reconsider its policy.

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  1. PlutoniumKun

    Its causing havoc with domestic tourism in the UK too. I was talking last night to a friend who has a small business running holiday cottages in the north of England (not that far from the town made famous by Dom Cummings lockdown breaches) and he (and his customers) have found the government advice hopelessly confusing about what is, and what is not permitted. He’s had to cancel a few bookings from mixed households because of uncertainty.

    There are talks today on restricting cross-border movements in Ireland because of a major cluster between Donegal (in the Republic) and Derry (in Northern Ireland). *

    Mind you, someone told me this week (in Ireland) that his 79 year old mother is flying out to Spain this weekend. She said she is sick to death of not seeing anyone and wants some sunshine, even if it kills her.

    *I haven’t been able to post links (on iOS) to NC for a few days – I”m not sure if this is my pc or an issue with the website?

    1. The Rev Kev

      ‘I haven’t been able to post links (on iOS) to NC for a few days – I”m not sure if this is my pc or an issue with the website?’

      Don’t know if it is worth your while but you can download a live Linux DVD and burn it to a disc. Leave it in your bay and reboot the computer but select the option to just run Linux and not install it when it boots up. When you are ready, open up a browser and use it to get to NC and test it by posting a comment. If successful, it might point to the main operating problem being the problem via a setting. You can get Linux from here-

      1. vlade

        You don’t need CD/DVD to do so, you can boot (including Mac) from a USB drive.

        The advantage of such a boot to Linux is that those are read-only by design (even the USB one), so unless there was a malware on the distribution (possible, but very unlikely), you can’t get infected.

        My wife uses it exclusively for things like internet banking etc.

    2. stan6565

      Sorry to contradict your friend, but the guests and agents for our holiday let business in East Anglia are suffering no confusion. The business of staycation is booming, and we are running it at premium and steadily increasing rates.

      We have sold out ordinarily empty months of September through December. Jan to March 2021 are half full and April is full. May June July and August 2021 half full. And we are only in September 2020!

  2. TK MAXX

    Not sure I agree with your phrasing – the UK government is choosing to make it harder to re-enter the UK; it is still just as easy to leave the UK and travel elsewhere (except where commercial flights have stopped due to such a drop in demand).

    It would be more interesting to see which countries have responded reciprocally to the UK’s high infection rate currently – France retaliated against the UK by imposing quarantine on new entrants into France from the UK. I’m sure there are lots of other countries choosing to do the same.

    But the UK passport is still one of the most useful for travel, especially compared to the US right now.

  3. rtah100

    The article risks giving the impression that these restrictions have been imposed by the EU. In fact, the requirement to isolate etc. is imposed by HMG on its own subjects!

    There may be similar restrictions imposed by destination countries on UK travellers but these will be specific to that country.

    I recently drove from the UK to Italy (to attend a single four hour meeting – I ain’t gonna fly!). My route was France-Belgium-Germany-Switzerland-Italy and I stopped only in Germany and Italy so that I was not required to isolate by UK rules on my return to the UK.

    However, as a result of each nation’s different national requirements, I had to draw up the full matrix of origin/destination restrictions for my route. From memory, there were quarantine requirements and/or restrictions in Belgium and Germany on travellers origination from certain UK regions and territories but Italy made no distinction between UK regions (but it required the arriving person to self-certify their origin and health-status). There were also restrictions / requirements in Germany on arrivals from certain Belgian territories, for example.

    Freedom of movement is currently an exercise in regulatory arbitrage. Like capital, like people!

    1. Clive

      Well, yes and no. Yes in so far as the UK government imposes the return-travel quarantine requirement. But no in so far as EU Freedom of Movement is a distant memory as the concept used to be understood. The Council has issued guidelines for how any curtailment of Freedom of Movement should be implemented (e.g. COVID-19 positivity rates not being set arbitrarily) but 1) these are only recommendations i.e. Member State governments can use “emergency measures” rationales to make anything up they like and 2) you either have Freedom of Movement or you don’t — if it is suspended or curtailed, you can’t, ah-hem, move freely.

      I think when viewed narrowly it is entirely appropriate that Freedom of Movement should be suspended. Not wishing to be seen as “bad Europeans” led to a far-too-tardy decision to curtail travel in the EU. As soon as there were confirmed cases, national isolations should have been put into place (albeit with some sensible considerations for places like Luxemburg where you can’t do anything much without crossing a border) and Northern Ireland where not only do non-EU agreements like the Common Travel Area also need to be factored in, it’s simply not going to achieve anything on such a porous border.

      But more broadly? It is difficult. If Freedom of Movement isn’t some untouchable, inalienable right, how come it is the first to get whacked at the merest hint of trouble? And if the knee-jerk reaction of EU Member States is to retreat into national interest shells, are any of the highfaluting principles really worth anything? I can’t say with surety what is right and what is wrong here, but it does need further and deeper exploration.

      Certainly here in the UK (and I suspect elsewhere) there is an absolutely fierce and frequently ill-tempered debate raging about just how much civil liberties can be simply dumped “because of the virus”. It is not at all clear what can or should be tolerated absent a democratic process. At least the EU Council is making the right noises — I hope the Parliament gets its act together and debates it properly.

      1. vlade

        In the UK, you have an internal freedom of movement, right? So fundamental, it’s not even anywhere on the law books.

        Yet it got whacked in the spring (except for some) for all of the UK, and then later specifically (like the various mini-lockdowns, where a lot of the legality is highly dubious). It used to get whacked pretty regularly across the UK during the emergencies like wars, and locally during things like terrorist events or natural disasters (for example police regularly stop people entering flooded areas, even if they live there normally).

        So is your freedom of movement in the UK “untouchable, inalienable right”, or does it get whacked anytime government finds it convenient?

        Put it differently, if a government can restrict its own citizens/residents from moving freely, what’s the problem with restricting anyone else?

        1. Clive

          Precisely, I hope the U.K. government is going to be given a bloody nose for its undemocratic executive overreacting (which looks quite likely).

          If all the Council can do in reality is whinge a bit as Freedom of Movement is curtailed where, then, is the much-vaunted superiority of EU guarantees for citizens rights? If they turn out to be so much EU PR and optics, rather than reliable realities, why should anyone rely on them? And what’s the point of all those warm words in the acquis?

          More EU promising of far more than it delivers.

          1. rtah100

            Clive, when I wrote “Freedom of movement” I was only capitalising the beginning of a sentence. I was not invoking one of the Four Horsemen of the EU, Freedom of Movement. :-)

            But I was pointing out that, whereas previously freedom of movement of people was both straightforward and multilateral (you can either move or you cannot), now it has become like an exercise in tax planning in terms of threading oneself through exclusively bilateral rules.

            Just to correct TK Maxx, there is no restriction on entering France from the UK. There may be restrictions on stopping, requiring isolation, I have not checked, but transit travellers may pass straight through.

            The country to watch is Switzerland. Their exemptions for transit traffic made specific reference to the exercise of Freedom of Movement – UK nationals may find their transit rights restricted by coronavirus regulations….

            1. Clive

              Yes, that’s an important distinction — whether it’s Freedom of Movement or just plain old freedom of movement (!) in question.

              Neither the capitalised version nor the more normal version can now be taken for granted. I’ve never been a fan of Open Borders (to risk yet more capital letters!) but there’s something pretty fundamental about a country having an open border (in so far as you can leave if you really want to, just so long as you can find some other country that is prepared to let you stay there instead as opposed to an Iron Curtain-like imprisonment of your own citizens).

              No way should anyone tolerate any regression to the latter. Nor any scantily justified restrictions on movement within one’s own country. The Scottish government is, for example, taking big hit (rightly) for keeping university students under what is in effect house arrest — and charging them hefty rents for the dubious privilege.

      2. Basil Pesto

        Certainly here in the UK (and I suspect elsewhere) there is an absolutely fierce and frequently ill-tempered debate raging about just how much civil liberties can be simply dumped “because of the virus”. It is not at all clear what can or should be tolerated absent a democratic process.

        Much of this will come down to human rights law in Europe, and the European Court of Human Rights itself.

        many of the articles and protocols in the European Convention in Human Rights have exemptions carved out for “the protection of public health or
        morals”, as well as states of emergency I think, which are then weighed up by the court, giving due consideration to the Margin of Appreciation (that is, the specific judicial culture/ordinary culture of the country appearing before the court),
        proportionality, and other factors. Indeed, Article 5, Right to Liberty and Security, which reads as follows:

        1. Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be deprived of his liberty save in the following cases and in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law:

        then has a number of exceptions carved out, one of which is:

        e. the lawful detention of persons for the prevention of the spreading of infectious diseases, of persons of unsound mind, alcoholics or drug addicts or vagrants;

        I suppose a number of pandemic cases may well be tried in the chamber in the years to come. I don’t think the court’s jurisprudence has been tested on anything like the current situation.

        Incidentally before hitting submit I thought I’d check the Council of Europe’s website as I figured they’d have a Covid page. Here it is. I only scanned briefly but it might be of interest.

    2. vlade

      Yes, it reads as if those EU countries were restricting the Britons, when it’s the other way around. Mind you, shortly (and I don’t mean Brexit), it’s likely going to be both ways.

      The tourism as we know it is done for some time (and, if I’m to be honest about it, good riddance).

  4. upstater

    My daughter and year old grandson live in a tiny apartment in London. Needless to say we won’t be seeing them anytime soon. I’m still perplexed how they can live there even without COVID.

    A week ago I traveled from Syracuse to New Orleans to visit my mother who now lives in an assisted living facility. I stayed in her unoccupied home. I flew down on AA via Charlotte and returned through Chicago. Mask use on the flights was mandatory and well over 95% at the airports. I wore an N95 mask, acquired for home improvement projects, for traveling and visiting.

    In order to return to NY State, you are required to scan a QR code at the departing gate and fill a web form with personal and travel information or complete a paper form on arrival. There were people checking each passenger disembarking for compliance.

    The following day I was called by the NYS Department of Health and told about the quarantine requirements. In also received an order of quarantine notice from my county health department. I also get daily text messages asking my status. Obviously people could violate the quarantine, but there is a stiff fine.

    My region’s positive rate had been under 1% all summer. It has recently ticked up over 2% with schools and colleges reopening. Getting tested and receiving timely results is generally pretty easy.

    Fortunately I live in a semi rural area and have plenty of yard work in nice weather!

    I can’t see many people from states with high infections coming here as tourists with a 14 day quarantine. The border with Canada remains closed. This will go on well into next year… or the one after, or after that, or…

  5. AnonyMouse

    No one has the slightest clue what the restrictions actually are within their local area, and they are both unenforceable and largely unenforced.

    The Cummings affair and general fatigue with restrictions is in part to blame, as well as the whiplash from the “Back To Normal!!!” messaging, the Eat Out To Help Out scheme, and the push to return to the office [which had a lot less to do with saving the poor joe on minimum wave in Pret and more to do with corporate landlords] have all had a part to play. But so do the clear contradictions that exist in the guidelines, existing as they do to preserve activities that contribute to GDP at the expense of any that don’t.

    So it is that, where I live, I am not permitted to have visitors to my home, but it’s perfectly acceptable for me to go to a restaurant or bar, or to the cinema, or to a shop, and mingle with total strangers. I can get a haircut, but I couldn’t have family members come to stay with me. Per the guidelines here.

    People see through this utter ridiculousness. Those who have COVID fear are staying isolated regardless of guidelines. Those who are blase about it – or whose jobs already entail a good deal of exposure – are not willing to sacrifice their social lives any longer for it.

  6. Icecube12

    I live in Iceland, which sometime last month implemented this regime of double testing+5 days of quarantine in between for everyone flying into the country (though they have the option to refuse the test and self-isolate for two weeks). Tourism has pretty much completely dried up anyway, though I saw a few tourists walking around Reykjavik last week. That said, it makes some limited tourism more possible, and it certainly makes life easier for people who cannot avoid traveling. I had to come to the US this week due to deal with my father’s death and adjacent family crises. Knowing that I will have to quarantine for 5-6 days upon my return home is an added stressor, but without this requirement I would be stressed out thinking I might infect my loved ones in Iceland as well. If I had to quarantine for two weeks when I go home…I would feel even more insane right now.

    As for how well this regime is working, cases are spiking in Iceland again, but I guess a lot of it has been traced to someone coming into the country who apparently socialized after testing positive. And also, masks were only required in universities and high schools as of last week. So I think the testing+5 days quarantine regime is (like 2 weeks quarantine) very likely effective if it is enforced intelligently and if other appropriate measures are in place to halt spread.

  7. David

    I’ve tried twice to post a longer comment during the day, eaten both times by the Shoggoth of the Internet. I might have another try later. Short summary: tourism in France has held up this year because the French are staying at home. Mass tourism is way down, but not everybody is convinced this is a bad thing.

  8. Savita

    Clive, regarding the iron curtain
    Australia ( which I share with Rev Kev ) has closed its borders to its own citizens.
    One has to apply for a pass/exemption to leave. Word on the street is, it’s tricky to know what constitutes an ‘acceptable’ reason to be granted right of departure. For example requests to depart the country for family reunions, by any description or definition, are refused.
    Apparently Cuba and North Korea are the only other countries in the world restricting their own citizens from departing with a valid passport. A National Class Action is in operation regarding this and numerous other aspects of the decisions made by Scotty from Markteting this year. ( Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who had himself rebranded as ScoMo, and best described in this comedy sketch here ) activating subtitles recommended :-)

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