The number of Britons booking holidays abroad has doubled in a week amid claims that the “irrational” quarantine on arrivals in the UK could be quashed by the courts.
Ryanair, Europe’s busiest airline, said today that it had seen a 100 per cent increase in the number of people purchasing flights in July and August in the expectation that holidays abroad will be given the green light.
Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair group chief executive, said the quarantine policy was “worse than useless” and there was a widespread belief that it would not last until the end of the month.
International Airlines Group (IAG), British Airways’ parent company, is planning to file papers with the High Court today requesting an urgent hearing to apply for an injunction against the policy. The legal challenge is being backed by Ryanair and Easyjet.
The comments were made as the first travellers arrived in the UK this morning under the quarantine restrictions.
As part of the policy, all travellers are required to fill in a “public health passenger locator” form on arrival by air, ferry or through the Channel Tunnel rail link. Arrivals, including Britons returning from overseas, are required to provide an address where they will self-isolate for two weeks, although they can travel to the property by public transport and embark on food shopping trips.
Failure to provide an address could result in a £100 fine while those who flout isolation rules can receive a £1,000 penalty. There are 42 exempted groups, including hauliers and agricultural workers.
About 40 flights landed at Heathrow this morning from destinations including the US, Hong Kong, Japan, Canada, Doha, Bahrain, Ethiopia and across Europe.
However, the chaotic introduction of the measures was criticised today. Lucy Moreton, a professional officer at the Immigration Services Union, told the BBC that technical papers explaining what to check for only arrived on Friday and were still not available to many border staff. She insisted there was no system for checking addresses and that only clear rule-breakers would be picked up.
A leaked memo to Border Force officials said that only “manifestly false” information such as an arrival putting down their name as “Mickey Mouse” or their address as “Buckingham Palace” would result in checks.
Transport and travel companies are calling for the blanket quarantine to be scrapped in favour of more targeted measures, including health checks at airports. They also want quarantine-free “air bridges” to be created between the UK and low-risk countries.
The Sun reported today that Foreign Office advice against all but essential international travel is expected to be scrapped within days. It would provide a further sign that the UK is preparing to allow people to take holidays abroad this summer.
Speaking today, Sir Keir Starmer urged the government to consider testing people on arrival in the UK rather than imposing the blanket measures. The Labour leader criticised the policy as an example of the government’s “inconsistency and slowness” in responding to the pandemic and questioned why it was necessary at this point.
“Weeks ago other countries put quarantine in and we didn’t,” Sir Keir told LBC radio. “Now, as everybody’s lifting it, we’re putting it in.”
He added: “We would like to see a situation where the test was returned within 24 hours. You might have to hold people at the airport until that test result was in.”
IAG, Easyjet and Ryanair wrote over the weekend to Sir Jonathan Jones, the government’s most senior legal official, in the first stage of its legal action. They want the measures to be suspended pending a review.
They are also preparing to lodge papers with the High Court seeking an urgent hearing for an injunction. That could take place later this week.
Speaking to The Times, Mr O’Leary said that the airlines wanted an injunction on the grounds that the policy is “irrational”.
“It isn’t a quarantine,” he said. “Filling in a piece of paper before you are allowed loose on the London Underground or into Sainsbury’s and Tesco or onto your local beach is not a quarantine. Even the Home Office today confirm that it is unpoliceable and it is unimplementable. It is worse than useless.
“We think that the courts will overturn this on the grounds of irrationality alone. You haven’t got a quarantine and the impression given is deterring thousands of people from coming to the UK from countries with lower R-rates than the UK and that will cost thousands of jobs. We think there is a reasonable prospect of getting an injunction against it.”
Ryanair, which operates from 27 UK airports, is planning to introduce 1,000 flights a day across Europe from the start of July.
Mr O’Leary said the airline had seen a big increase in bookings among UK families seeking to travel to the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands.
“Most of the traffic will be outbound,” he said. “Our bookings doubled this weekend compared with the previous weekend, mainly with UK families booking holidays to go to the Canaries, the Algarve, the Balearics, Malaga and Italy.
“Most people in the UK know that the quarantine is completely bonkers and useless . . . Most are gambling, in my view correctly, that the quarantine has so little credibility that it will be removed before the end of June anyway.”
Travellers arriving at Heathrow this morning described fines for breaking new quarantine rules as “crazy” and “terrifying”.
However, many passengers appeared unfazed as they ambled through arrivals at Terminal 2.
Apart from the many facemasks being worn, it appeared to be business as usual. Some people were lying on top of their bags while others huddled near plug sockets as they waited for families to touch down.
All who had just landed have been instructed to complete forms detailing where they will isolate for the next 14 days and contact information.
Some were shocked to learn they faced fines of up to £3,200 for providing the wrong information and £1,000 for failing to self isolate.
The sudden airport policy shift has prompted passengers to abandon plans to travel to their homes on public transport and instead pay for Uber taxis to London.
One American passenger flying in to Terminal 2 with his girlfriend said: “I didn’t know it was £1,000. I will still comply but £1,000 is crazy.
“I did the form online but my phone died, it was a bit of a drama sorting out the phone chargers. But I got it done and the system was pretty easy.
“I didn’t lie [on the form] but the £3,000 fine is terrifying. I hope they’re not actually fining people these insane amounts.
“I was aware that the police might actually visit your house, knock on the door. It seemed outlandish but we were ready for that possibility.
“But overall I think it’s good that the UK government has put measures in place to better control the virus.”