Australia is pushing to be the first country exempted from the UK’s new 14-day coronavirus quarantine – as arrivals face ‘spot checks’ on homes and £1,000 fines for breaking the rules.
Ministers are due to unveil plans for mandatory isolation of everyone coming into the country, in a bid to stop the deadly disease flaring up again.
Those who flout the orders face £1,000 fines, followed by even tougher penalties if the they fail to pay.
Arrivals will be required to supply an address where they will be isolating, enforced by public health officers carrying out random visits.
Exemptions from the tough regime will be extremely limited to start with, mainly covering lorry drivers, NHS workers and fruit pickers considered essential to run the economy and health services. Free movement with Ireland will also be maintained, with the Common Travel Area a key part of the peace deal.
The system is not expected to be finalised until the Commons returns from recess at the beginning of next month. However, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has already raised the prospect of ‘air bridges’ to low-infection countries being introduced at a later stage.
Reports in Australia suggest PM Scott Morrisson is pushing for his country, which has almost wiped out the virus, to be left out of the curbs.
Ministers will today press ahead with the mandatory isolation plan for all ports and airports (arrivals at London Heathrow this month)
A thermal screening trial taking place at Terminal 2 in Heathrow yesterday
Heathrow trials temperature screening
Heathrow has started trials of temperature screening to spot passengers with coronavirus.
Travellers passing through Terminal 2’s immigration hall are being monitored with thermal detection cameras which can read a person’s temperature in seconds from a distance of 8ft.
The airport is in talks with Border Force and Public Health England (PHE) over what action can be taken if a passenger with a fever is identified.
The traveller could be asked to quarantine or be prevented from boarding the plane.
The trials have been set up to ensure the technology works before proper regulations are introduced.
The move follows anger over the country’s failure to screen the 15,000 passengers continuing to arrive into Britain every day.
New safety measures also mean all airport staff have to wear face coverings and bosses are also considering UV sanitation to clean security trays, as well as contact-free security screening equipment to reduce person-to-person contact.
Heathrow says the measures could form part of an internationally agreed system of biosecurity to restore confidence in air travel.
Under the plans, travellers arriving at all ports and airports will be ordered to go into self-isolation for a fortnight.
Foreign nationals who refuse to agree to self-isolate will be banned from entering the UK.
It will also apply to those returning from holiday abroad, but truck drivers will be exempt from the rules to prevent disruption to vital supplies such as food.
Transit passengers, who do not formally enter the UK, will also be exempt, as will fruit and vegetable pickers.
Harvesters will be forced to live on the farms on which they are working.
But pleas for a broad exemption for business have been rejected.
Only a small number of specialist workers will be exempt from what insiders said would initially be a ‘blanket’ policy.
Around 100 of these spot checks are expected to performed each day.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis warned Britons that if they go abroad they face quarantine on return.
He told BBC Breakfast: ‘The reality is, we are saying to people If you are going abroad, you need to look at the fact you may well need to quarantine when you come back.
‘But this quarantine, when it comes in, it something we will be reviewing every three weeks or so.
‘I can’t say how long this quarantine will last for, that is something that will be down to the scientific advice at every stage as we assess it in terms of keeping that R level down.’
The quarantine plan is designed to stop the UK importing new cases of the virus. It will be reviewed every three weeks.
But Whitehall sources played down hopes it could be lifted before the summer holiday season.
There are signs of discontent among Tory backbenchers at the proposals.
Former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith told the Telegraph: ‘The Government needs to rethink this quickly and not go into quarantine.’
However, a former head of Border Force said today he was ‘surprised’ quarantine measures had not been brought in at UK borders sooner.
Tony Smith, now chairman of the International Border Management and Technologies Association, told the Commons Home Affairs Committee on Friday: ‘Yes I was surprised that we hadn’t seen earlier measures introduced at the UK border.
‘I did live through a number of pandemics in my time in government, including Sars and bird flu, swine flu.
‘The normal response is that there would be a significant introduction of public health into the ports and borders. That is what we would normally expect.
‘I think there was some of that in some of the ports where hotspots were identified.
‘The airports do have the capability working with the Border Force and with the airlines to isolate flights, to segment passengers into more remote areas of the airport and to conduct testing if such a thing is medically proven as being worthwhile.’
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis warned Britons that if they go abroad they face quarantine on return
Mr Shapps on Monday raising the idea of ‘air bridges’ with popular tourist destinations such as Spain.
Madrid yesterday signalled it might be prepared to welcome UK tourists from July without asking them to self-isolate for 14 days.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: ‘What we’ve had is incredibly confusing messages from the Government.
‘We have a possible air bridge announced one day, only for someone else to pop up later to say it won’t happen.’
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said: ‘We need to find a way that the vast, vast, vast majority of people who don’t have a disease can still fly.’
It came as Italy yesterday announced airports will reopen from June 3. EU tourists will be allowed in from that date, with the 14-day quarantine waived.
But this would only include Britons if the UK also dropped its quarantine plans for arrivals from Italy.
A Department for Transport spokesman said yesterday: ‘Ultimately, we will be guided by the science, with the health of the public always coming first.’