From 8 June onwards, the great majority of international arrivals to the UK will be required to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival. Prior to boarding their flight, they will be required to complete an online form listing the address where they will self-isolate, and spot checks will be conducted during the 14-day period. Whereas other countries such as Australia and New Zealand introduced similar measures at the start of the coronavirus crisis, the UK Government instead pursued a strategy of first reducing community transmission, and only tightening controls at the borders once community transmission was low enough that international arrivals could be responsible for triggering an uptick in cases.
Research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies suggests the UK public is broadly supportive of the new 14-day self-isolation requirement. A poll conducted on 27 May showed that 53% of respondents consider the new self-isolation requirement an effective policy for helping protect the UK public from the further spread of coronavirus. Surprisingly, support for the policy is not divided along party lines, with 53% of those who voted Labour in the 2019 General Election viewing the policy as effective, alongside 59% of Conservative voters and 48% of Liberal Democrat voters.
Interestingly, a significant proportion of respondents (18%) said that they don’t know whether the policy will be effective. Although this could be a result of the 18% of respondents not having enough familiarity with the issue at hand, it is possible that the late introduction of this policy (as compared to Australia or New Zealand, for example) is making some people doubt whether it will be effective at this stage, even if they might view it as an effective policy in the abstract.
Indeed, when given a choice between the Government’s self-isolation policy or simply not letting anyone into the country, respondents were more decisive. 50% of them said they would prefer for the UK Government to simply not let anyone in, whereas 41% would allow people into the country but require them to self-isolate. Only 9% of respondents were unsure which option they would prefer. These figures suggest that respondents erred on the side of stricter controls when given the choice, to the extent of closing the border altogether.
Having initially announced that travellers from France would be exempted from the self-isolation requirement, the Government eventually backtracked and announced that arrivals from France would also have to self-isolate. When asked whether they would support the UK Government granting exemptions to arrivals from countries that have a reciprocal agreement with the UK, 46% of respondents said they would oppose such an exception. Only 26% said they would support it. Once again, respondents were not divided along party lines on this question, with those who voted Conservative and Labour in the 2019 General Election opposing the country-specific exemptions at similar rates (46% and 45%, respectively).
Although the Government will be relieved to see the broad support for this new policy in the UK, the airline and hospitality industries will not. Indeed, chief executives from the UK airline industry have voiced concerns about the impact of the self-isolation measures on their ability to weather the crisis. Likewise, those who work in tourism in countries such as Greece and Spain will greet the news with concern, as it signals a low likelihood of receiving British tourists this summer. Ultimately, given the high levels of support for strict measures at the border, it remains to be seen whether the UK Government will go ahead and introduce ‘air bridges’ with countries that have low levels of coronavirus transmission, as has been speculated recently.