England Drops Its Quarantine for Most Visitors, but Not Those From the U.S.

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LONDON — England will drop its mandatory 14-day quarantine for visitors from more than 50 countries but leave the restrictions in place for travelers coming from the United States, deepening the isolation of America and delivering another rebuke to President Trump for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The European Union recently upheld a ban on travelers from the United States, even as it opened its borders to visitors from Canada, Rwanda, Thailand and 15 other countries. England’s policy, announced on Friday, is not as draconian. Visitors from America can still enter the country so long as they agree to isolate themselves for two weeks.

But those from France, Germany, Italy, Spain and dozens of other countries will be able to travel to England with no restrictions — an arrangement intended to bolster the languishing tourism industry in time for the summer vacation season. The regulations will take effect on July 10.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland apply their own travel policies and may not follow England’s lead in easing restrictions.

The United States has barred most visitors from Britain since March, after briefly exempting them from a travel ban on the European Union. At the time, Europe was dealing with far more coronavirus infections than the United States. Since then, the epicenter of the pandemic has moved across the Atlantic.

ImageA line outside a coronavirus testing center in Los Angeles this week. California reported 8,200 new cases on Thursday as single-day records continued to be broken across the United States.
Credit…Bryan Denton for The New York Times

During the initial phase of the outbreak, Britain stayed open to travel from viral hot spots like Italy, Spain and Iran. By the time it imposed the quarantine measures, its infection rates were among the highest in the world.

That prompted fierce criticism of a policy that placed restrictions on people arriving from countries where the virus was well under control, including New Zealand. The authorities threatened to fine rule breakers up to £1,000 ($1,245).

Critics said the measures were economically damaging, ineffective and legally unenforceable because the country did not have the resources to ensure that people were obeying their 14-day quarantine. Of the 12 police forces that replied to questions from the BBC, none said they had handed out any fines.

Some public-health experts said the fractious debate over the quarantine had distracted from more pressing problems, like safely reopening Britain’s schools, organizing an effective test-and-trace program and organizing a system to stamp out new outbreaks in cities like Leicester to avert a second lockdown.

“The U.K. government seems focused on giving people a summer pandemic holiday instead of dealing with the hard issues facing the aviation industry for the coming year,” said Professor Devi Sridhar, the director of the global health governance program at the University of Edinburgh.

Scotland has balked at the easing, much as it resisted Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s earlier plans to lift the lockdown. Its infection and death rates are lower than in England, which officials attribute to its more cautious approach. The Scottish government has yet to decide how to relax restrictions on travelers, though its options are somewhat limited, given its open border with England.

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Credit…Darren Staples/Getty Images

Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, told the BBC on Friday that the United States would be excluded from the immediate relaxation because of the “very high numbers of infections” in the country.

The government has designated countries with green, yellow and red lights, based on “the prevalence of coronavirus, the numbers of new cases and potential trajectory of the disease in that destination.” The United States has a red light.

The announcement appeared to go further than an earlier idea floated by ministers to create “air bridges” with specific countries, in which travelers would have reciprocal freedom to travel. The government still hopes that a number of the exempted countries will not require visitors from Britain to quarantine.

But the list of greenlight countries comprises more than 50 — among them Vietnam and Hong Kong, though not mainland China. Some could still require travelers from Britain to quarantine on arrival. On the British end, many arriving passengers will still be required to provide contact information.

Still, for the travel industry, it was a welcome relief after a tense period when they worried that the summer season was going to be ruined. Many complained about the damage to their businesses and warned about job losses.

“It has been an incredibly frustrating time,” said Steven Freudmann, the chairman of the Institute of Travel and Tourism, a lobbying group. “There just appears to be no coordinated thinking. A shambles is the only word I can think of.”

Mr. Freudmann said he was “happy and relieved that finally — finally — the government seems to be making sensible decisions.” But he said the government’s erratic policies had “created a lack of confidence and clearly we, as an industry, have a job in establishing that confidence.”

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Credit…Magnesianews.gr, via Associated Press

Nor was Mr. Freudmann the only critic of the government’s decision-making over quarantine rules.

The Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, described it as “shambolic,” adding that she wanted to study the detail before taking any decision on whether Scotland should adopt the new program with England.

Among those who flouted the existing travel restrictions was the father of Mr. Johnson, Stanley Johnson. The elder Mr. Johnson, 79, posted pictures on social media of his arrival in Greece, which currently prevents vacationers from flying directly from Britain. He apparently got there via the Bulgarian capital, Sofia.

It was not the first time he had defied government coronavirus advice. Before Britain’s lockdown began, when the prime minister urged Britons not to go to the pub, his father said he would go anyway if he felt the thirst.

Speaking from Greece, Stanley Johnson told the Daily Mail newspaper that he was in the country on “essential business, trying to Covid-proof my property in view of the upcoming letting season.”

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