Unlike many countries in continental Europe that closed their borders early in the coronavirus pandemic and are now reopening them for the summer tourist season, the UK Government opted for the opposite approach: UK borders remained open when community transmission was high, and will be closed now that community transmission levels have fallen in order to avoid importing a second wave of coronavirus. Last week, Home Secretary Priti Patel announced that the UK will enforce a fourteen-day self-isolation requirement for most international arrivals. The scheme, which starts today, obliges all travellers to register their location for self-isolation. Failure to comply with the rules could result in a £1,000 fine.
As of June 3rd last week, for context, a majority (56%) of respondents stated that the UK Government had not handled the crisis well.
Likewise, 47% believe that the UK Government is not prepared to stave off a potential second wave of the pandemic.
Perhaps this fear among the public may account for the Government’s decision to put in force the quarantine policy. Indeed, the Home Secretary has justified the scheme precisely as a means to avoid a potential second wave in the UK.
The public appears to agree with her, as 63% of respondents approved of the decision to require self-isolation upon arrival. Unlike the other two previous questions, this finding does not follow broad party divisions as 65% of those who voted for Labour and 53% of those who voted for the Liberal Democrats in the 2019 General Elections approved of the Government’s decision.
Yet the policy has attracted tough criticism, notably on the part of airline groups such as easyJet, British Airways, and Ryanair, who have all announced that they will take legal action against the Government’s self-isolation scheme.
We thus gave some context to our respondents on the impact the measure would have on the travel and tourism industry, underlining the fact that these industries would have to lay off a significant number of staff or cease operations in the UK. Nonetheless, 55% of respondents agreed that significant layoffs in the travel and tourism industry are a cost worth bearing in the face of the pandemic.
Indeed, a slight majority of the UK public (54%) remains more concerned about the public health impacts of the coronavirus pandemic going forward than about the pandemic’s impact on the economy (46%). Again, this finding is not split along partisan lines.
The question remains whether the public believes the self-isolation requirement will be an effective mechanism in protecting the UK from a potential second wave.
Last month, on May 27th, we had already asked this question and found that 53% of respondents considered the requirement an effective policy.
On June 3rd, with a differently-phrased question, this finding was confirmed as 42% of UK voters agreed that the self-isolation policy will go far enough in reducing the spread of the virus from those coming from abroad. Interestingly, a plurality of those over the age of 55 did not agree with the statement.
Indeed, a majority of respondents (67%) stated that the self-isolation requirement for international arrivals should have been introduced earlier. For respondents from the South West, this figure mounted to a staggering 77%.
However, those opposed to the Government’s policy have insisted that the UK should adopt “transport corridors” or “air bridges” with countries that have low levels of coronavirus cases.
Our findings suggests there is significant support for “air bridges” in the UK, with 42% of respondents arguing that they would support exemptions to travellers coming from countries where the coronavirus situation was deemed safe.
This exemption, in turn, would allow UK residents to avoid self-isolating in those countries.
Whereas Greece has opted for random testing and Portugal will check the temperature of passengers, both countries will open their borders to tourists for the summer holidays. As countries in southern Europe attempt to save the summer tourist season, which is crucial to their economies, the United Kingdom has instead decided to close its borders for the time being in an attempt to avoid importing new cases now that community transmission is falling. Our findings indicate that, despite a general disapproval of the Government’s handling of the crisis, the UK public supports the self-isolation requirement for international arrivals, but is open to establishing “air bridges” with countries with low rates of coronavirus.