Covid in Scotland: Closing travel quarantine loophole ‘is critical’

Scotland’s transport secretary has said it is “absolutely critical” the UK closes a loophole as new quarantine regulations are set to come into force.

From 04:00 on Monday all international arrivals in Scotland must self-isolate in hotels for 10 days.

But in England the rules only apply to arrivals from 33 “red list” countries.

Michael Matheson has asked for Scotland-bound travellers arriving at English airports to be offered quarantine facilities in England.

The UK government said it had put in place “some of the toughest border regimes in the world” to raise defences against new strains.

The Scottish Conservatives accused Scottish ministers of “stoking a row” to distract attention from the “mess” they had made of their own quarantine plans.

Labour, meanwhile, said the Scottish government was “clueless” about how it would make the new rules work.

Edinburgh Airport also criticised the Scottish government for making late changes – and warned that passengers arriving on Monday could be unaware of the new requirements.

The different approaches being taken by the UK and Scottish governments have raised concerns that people arriving at English airports and ferry terminals will then travel on to Scotland.

Passengers required to self-isolate in hotels will have to pay the £1,750 cost of their managed quarantine, which could encourage people to avoid this by choosing English airports even if Scotland is their final destination. Closing travel quarantine loophole is ‘critical’

Mr Matheson said his preference was for a UK-wide approach in which all international travellers must quarantine, but failing that he said quarantine facilities should be extended to travellers who plan to “transit on” to Scotland.

He told BBC Scotland’s The Sunday Show: “What we have said is that for those who are arriving in English airports and travelling on to Scotland, that they should make it available for them to be able to go into a quarantine facility in England before travelling on to Scotland.

“And, as yet, we are still waiting for the UK government to give us agreement on that.”

The UK government’s health secretary Matt Hancock has previously said passengers arriving in England from “low risk” countries would be required to quarantine at home – even if their home was in Scotland – rather than face hotel quarantine at their point of entry.

Reacting to Mr Matheson’s call for the UK to go further, a government spokesman said: “As we have said throughout the pandemic, you must follow the rules set by the relevant devolved administration when in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“Those arriving into England can transit onto Scotland but must follow the quarantine and self-isolation rules of the devolved administration on arrival.”

Mr Matheson also said another option would be for details of Scotland-bound travellers to be passed on so they could asked to quarantine at Scottish hotels.

But he added: “The problem with that is these are individuals who are then going to be potentially travelling on public transport and the risk of spreading any new variant they may be carrying.”

He ruled out police border checks being put in place, saying that would be too much of an operational challenge, given the volume of traffic crossing the border every day.

‘Lacking in basic detail’

Edinburgh Airport has, meanwhile, criticised the Scottish government’s plans, saying it has spent the last few days trying to make its suggestions “fit for purpose”.

A spokesperson said: “The initial discussions were lacking in basic detail and knowledge of our operations. This is exactly why we wanted to be engaged far earlier in the process rather than being in a race against time.

“We are hours away from this policy going live and still the government is changing its mind on a key issue around arrivals from Ireland and the need for quarantine, with connecting passengers from amber countries potentially able to avoid managed isolation altogether.

“This uncertainty does not inspire confidence for airports.”

Scottish Conservative transport spokesman Graham Simpson said the SNP were “stoking a row to distract from the mess they have made of their own hotel quarantine plans”.

He added: “They urgently need to get a grip of this situation, and make sure these new measures are made to work.

“There is no guidance, precious little consultation with airports, no details how hotels will be made Covid-secure.

“The Scottish people want to see their two governments working together at this time, not caught in a blame game.”

Scottish Labour spokesman Colin Smyth said: “It’s farcical. We are hours from this policy coming into force and the Scottish government are clueless over how they will make it work. Once again the SNP’s actions don’t live up to their rhetoric.

“Instead of competing against each other over who can sound the toughest, it’s time for the UK and Scottish governments to work together to put in place a policy that keeps the people of Scotland safe.”

‘Operational’ from Monday

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said that, rather than attacking each other, the two governments should work together on a plan to stop the spread of Covid.

Mr Matheson also insisted that officials had been in contact with airlines earlier in the week to make them aware of the new arrangements.

The Scottish government has block-booked six hotels for travellers who are forced to quarantine, three close to Edinburgh airport, two in Glasgow and one in Aberdeen.

Mr Matheson said “a number” of these hotels would be operational from Monday.

Passengers travelling to Scottish airports must fill out a Home Office passenger locator form, take a pre-departure Covid test and show they have made quarantine arrangements prior to arriving in Scotland, he said.

These will be checked again by Border Force on arrival in Scotland.

Passengers will then be met by security, taken to baggage reclaim and then on to transport to the quarantine hotel, he said.

Source: BBC