Just 10 enforcement orders have been issued to people for breaking quarantine rules after arriving in the UK, it has emerged, as fears of an extension of the measures to other parts of Europe led to a surge in last-minute enquires from customers desperate to get away before any further crackdown.
This week travellers arriving from Belgium, Andorra and the Bahamas were told they would have to quarantine for 14 days following a rise in Covid-19 cases in those countries. Spain and Luxembourg had already been removed from the travel corridor list.
The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, said on Friday the government would not hesitate to reimpose quarantines on arrivals from other countries if necessary, amid concerns that France may be next.
Ministers are said to be closely monitoring the situation across the Channel as Covid-19 cases increase. Norway has announced it is reimposing quarantine restrictions on France.
Eurostar reported a last-minute surge in bookings from customers desperate to get to Brussels on Friday before Belgium joins the quarantine list at 4am on Saturday. The train service will still be running after that but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is advising against all but essential travel to Belgium.
Getlink, which runs the Channel Tunnel car and truck shuttles, said a rumoured but unconfirmed change in FCO guidance on travelling to France had led to a spike in enquiries from worried customers.
“Lots of people are calling and asking what to do,” said John Keefe, the director of public affairs at Getlink, adding that speculation without facts was unhelpful. “All we can do is refer them to the government guidance and what the FCO is saying. At the moment France is not excluded from the travel corridor.”
Police have complained of being exasperated by the government’s “haphazard” approach to introducing travel restrictions.
The quarantine policy is supposedly backed up by law enforcement, but little appears to be taking place. The Home Office said border forces had issued nine sanctions and the police had issued one.
Police remain sympathetic to the challenges that the pandemic presents to the government but are bemused by the flurry of announcements made by senior politicians.
Two sources told the Guardian that they ignored grand pronouncements from, for example, the prime minister on TV and waited until officials sent through details. What is legally enforceable is often different from what politicians wish is possible.
Another source complained of a “haphazard” approach from Downing Street and the Cabinet Office leading to frustration in policing, noting that other departments such as the Home Office were performing better in asking for realistic measures and listening to police advice on how to lawfully and proportionately enforce restrictions.
The government imposed quarantine measures on 8 June for international arrivals to stem the threat of imported Covid-19 cases. In early July as part of an “air bridges” scheme it released a list of 59 locations that holidaymakers could visit without having to quarantine on their return. But within weeks Spain was removed from the list.
The measures affecting arrivals from Belgium, Andorra and the Bahamas came into effect in Wales on Friday and will be enforced in England and Scotland from Saturday.
One source at one of the UK’s leading tour operators said there was relatively little concern in the industry about countries such as France and Germany being added to the quarantine list, because unlike Spain they are not major package holiday destinations.
People who have booked deals to countries not yet on the quarantine list are unlikely to cancel them because they will not be entitled to a refund unless and until the FCO has advised against travel.
But the source said “Greece would be a big problem” because it is a popular package holiday destination, including for many of those who rebooked after Spain was closed off.