On 22 March 2021, the House of Lords is due to debate a regret motion by Baroness Thornton (Labour) on the Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) (England) (Amendment) (No. 7) Regulations 2021 (SI 2021/150). If approved, the regret motion has no legal effect, but allows the House to express its concern about the instrument.
The regulations were laid on 12 February 2021 and came into force on 15 February 2021. They are subject to the made negative procedure. Neither House has to agree to the instrument before it becomes law, but a member of either House can introduce a motion to annul the regulation within the objection period. In this case, the objection period ends on 19 April 2021.
The instrument amends the Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) (England) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/568). It introduces new restrictions on passengers arriving into England, particularly on travellers who have arrived in England from or after going through a ‘red list’ country.
Travel restrictions for passengers arriving in England during the coronavirus pandemic
On 8 June 2020, new restrictions on international travel came into force in England under the Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) (England) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/568). The regulations have been amended since coming into force.
As part of the regulations, all passengers that arrived in England either from outside the common travel area (ie the UK, the Crown Dependencies and Ireland), or from elsewhere in the common travel area where they have been outside that area in the last 14 days, must:
- have completed a Passenger Locator Form. This provides the Government with details such as the passenger’s name, date of birth, passport details and contact details, as well as details of their journey including accommodation details and the date and time of arrival; and
- self-isolate for 14 days from the date of their arrival (subsequently reduced to 10 days in December 2020).
There have been several developments to the restrictions since June 2020:
- In July 2020, the Government introduced travel corridors, which allowed passengers to travel between certain specified countries and England without the need to isolate on return. All travel corridors were suspended on 18 January 2021.
- In November 2020, the Government banned travel into England from passengers travelling from certain countries, or by passengers who had been through those countries in the last 10 days before travel (known as the ‘red list’ countries).
- The Test to Release scheme began on 15 December 2020. The scheme allowed passengers who arrived in England from a country not on the travel corridor list to end their isolation if they test negative for coronavirus on or after 5 days of isolation. The scheme was not available to passengers who arrived from, or went through, any country on the ‘red list’ of banned countries.
- On 15 January 2021, the Government introduced pre-departure testing requirements for all travellers to England. All passengers have to provide evidence of a negative coronavirus test up to 3 days before their departure.
The regulations included some exemptions to the restrictions, such as for seasonal agricultural workers, who are exempt from self-isolation within the bounds of a specified farm, or for members of the diplomatic community.
What has been introduced recently?
The Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) (England) (Amendment) (No. 7) Regulations 2021 (SI 2021/150) introduced two new systems to the current travel restrictions. These were:
- mandatory testing for all travellers who have been outside the common travel area in the last 10 days prior to arrival in England. All travellers must take a test on day 2 and day 8 of quarantine; and
- managed quarantine for travellers who have been in or through any country on the ‘red list’ in the last 10 days prior to arrival in England. These travellers must undertake the 10-day quarantine period in a hotel, at their own cost.
In addition, the regulations introduce additional powers of enforcement, such as the power to search and detain in certain circumstances, and new penalties for non-compliance.
In its explanatory memorandum to accompany the regulations, the Government said these measures are necessary to help prevent new variants of coronavirus from entering the UK. It stated that although travel from ‘red list’ countries to England is currently banned, “a significant number of people who have been in red-list countries are still arriving in England via indirect means”.
What concerns have been raised?
On 22 March 2021, Baroness Thornton (Labour) is due to move that:
While welcoming the Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) (England) (Amendment) (No. 7) Regulations 2021, this House regrets that they were not laid until 15 February despite the warning from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies on 21 January that “reactive, geographically targeted” travel bans “cannot be relied upon to stop importation of new variants” of COVID-19; further regrets that Her Majesty’s Government failed to prevent the Brazilian strain of COVID-19 entering the United Kingdom; further regrets that the policy only applies to 33 “red list” countries and that 99 per cent of passengers arriving in the United Kingdom are therefore exempt; and calls upon Her Majesty’s Government to implement a comprehensive hotel quarantine on all United Kingdom arrivals to prevent the importation of new variants of COVID-19.
The leader of the Labour party, Keir Starmer, has called for hotel quarantine of all international arrivals rather than just those from the ‘red list’. The Labour party has argued that under the Government’s new regulations roughly 19 out of 20 passengers who will arrive in the country after the implementation date will not be required to quarantine in a hotel, but in their homes. It goes on to say that, according to its research, only three in every 100 people are checked whilst in home quarantine to ensure they are complying.
During a debate on coronavirus in the House of Commons on 2 March 2021, Dr Philippa Whitford, SNP spokesperson for health and social care, raised concerns that a traveller could avoid managed quarantine by separating the legs of their journey. She asked the Government to review its hotel quarantine policy to make it “fit for purpose”. Responding, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, said that “quarantine is in place for 100% of passenger arrivals” to England.
On 21 January 2021, the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group considered potential measures to prevent the importation of coronavirus “variants of concern” into the UK. It stated that “targeted travel measures that apply only to countries that have detected specific variants of concern (and their neighbours) are unlikely to be completely successful in stopping new introductions of these variants into the UK”. This is because it believed variants are likely already circulating in many more countries, but they have gone undetected due to “limited genomic sequencing capacity globally”.
A prayer against the statutory instrument was tabled in the House of Commons on 9 March 2021. A date for debate has not yet been confirmed. The House of Commons library has explained that most such motions are not given time for debate, however motions put down by the Official Opposition are “usually debated, although there is no absolute certainty of this”.
- Institute for Government, ‘Hotel quarantine’, accessed 17 March 2021
- Rob Davies and Jamie Grierson, ‘First travellers arrive at Covid quarantine hotels in England’, Guardian, 15 February 2021
- Donna Lu, ‘England’s quarantine hotels won’t stop the spread of coronavirus variants’, New Scientist, 12 February 2021
- Philip Georgiadis, ‘UK’s Covid quarantine hotel booking system crashes’, Financial Times (£), 11 February 2021
Cover image by Nel Botha from Pixabay.