An imposed quarantine on people flying into the UK will add to the confusion of Britons trying to figure out their future travel plans, a consumer group has warned.
The British Prime Minister has said it will “soon be the time” to bring in a period of quarantine in order to stave off Covid-19 infection from abroad.
The situation has been described as “chaotic”, with calls for the Government to set out a plan to support the travel industry through the crisis.
Addressing the UK tonight, Boris Johnson said: “To prevent re-infection from abroad, I am serving notice that it will soon be the time, with transmission significantly lower, to impose quarantine on people coming into this country by air.
“And it is because of your efforts to get the R down and the number of infections down here, that this measure will now be effective.”
It has previously been reported that it will be a 14-day quarantine, and Airlines UK said it had been told by the Government that the plan will be in place by the end of the month or early June.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “This news will add to the confusion that British travellers are currently facing when trying to work out whether they can travel as planned, safely re-book postponed holidays, and when they will receive the refunds they are entitled to under consumer law for cancelled trips.
“The situation is chaotic: the guidance issued by the Government against travelling abroad is indefinite, and yet some airlines and travel companies are selling flights and holidays due to depart within the next few weeks which carry no warning that they are unlikely to go ahead as planned.
“Airlines and holiday companies must now be given clear FCO guidance on what dates it is appropriate to sell flights and holidays for.
“The Government must also urgently produce a plan to support the travel industry through this crisis, so carriers and holiday companies can comply with the law and refund consumers without fear of going bust.”
Mr Johnson did not mention arrivals by sea, and he did not make clear whether it would include passengers on internal UK flights or on flights from the Republic of Ireland.
However, The Times has previously reported that travellers from Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man will be exempt from the quarantine.
The newspaper also reported that “authorities will conduct spot checks”, with punishments for those not adhering to the rules including “fines of up to £1,000” and deportation.
Dr Peter Drobac, a medical doctor specialising in infectious diseases and an academic at the University of Oxford, said there is merit to the idea, but said it will require a lot of planning and infrastructure at a “really fragile” stage.
He said the country has to figure out how to keep down the R value, the number of people the average infected individual would spread the virus to, outside of a lockdown.
Dr Drobac told the PA news agency: “All the experience that we have from the countries that have been trying to do this suggests that it’s really hard and it’s really fragile.
“This is going to be a knife-edge balancing act, to try to ease the lockdown while preventing a second surge.
“And so every intervention that we can make that can keep the R down should be considered, and I think in relative terms, the quarantine becomes more valuable the less domestic transmission they have.”
Commenting on the enforcement of a quarantine, Dr Drobac said: “You can’t wave a magic wand and say we’re having a quarantine and expect it to work.
“There’s got to be a lot of infrastructure in place to make that effective.”
He added: “I think, in short, yes, this should have been done a long time ago, but given the current state of affairs, it makes sense to consider this now.”
Dr Drobac, a global public health academic, said this quarantine plan would have been a “smart” thing to do in February and early March.
“And that might have made a really big difference,” he said.
On Saturday, Airport Operators Association (AOA) chief executive Karen Dee said: “Quarantine would not only have a devastating impact on the UK aviation industry, but also on the wider economy.”