Quarantining travellers will be 'very challenging' and 'controversial', Scotland's police chief warns
Iain Livingstone, chief constable of Police Scotland, said the “controversial” issue would be predominantly overseen by public health officials, with the force helping to “support the wider national interest as required.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon agreed that Scotland would be pursuing a “public health-led” approach, and said that she did not want to put “undue pressure” on police at a time when they are dealing with a raft of new Covid-19 regulations in addition to their normal duties.
Under the UK government plans, all international arrivals into all four nations of the UK will be required to self-isolate for 14 days in an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus.
Home secretary Priti Patel said the move was “backed by the science” and was vital to "protect our hard-won progress as we move in the right direction.”
However, there is growing anger and concern at the impact of the restrictions on the travel and aviation sectors, which have already been hit hard during the outbreak.
British Airways' parent company is considering taking legal action against the UK government, describing the quarantine as “irrational” and “disproportionate.”
It remains to be seen exactly how the new measure will be enforced in Scotland.
In England, Border Force will check that travellers fill out a form with their contact details and location for isolation. If they are found to have left isolation prematurely, they could face a fine of up to £1,000 or prosecution, Ms Patel has said.
Speaking at the Scottish Government’s daily coronavirus briefing, Mr Livingstone signalled that police would not necessarily be at the frontline in ensuring the quarantine rules are adhered to.
“We recognise this is a very challenging issue, and to an extent, a controversial issue, but the reasons for it are solid public health grounds - to try and prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” he said.
“We’ve been working very closely with our colleagues in public health and officials in the Scottish Government, as well as the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service to look at the best mechanism to ensure the maximum compliance and co-operation from people who are subject to the quarantine period.
“From my perspective, I fundamentally see the police as having a backstop role here. We will have to support the wider national interest as required, but I think it will be public health led, with a backstop of policing as required.”
Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government was working to finalise issues of enforcement and financial penalties for breaches of the regulations, which she described as a “policy decision” by the UK government.
She explained the government was giving “careful consideration” of the issues, and planned to publish the regulations over the weekend, which she hoped would demonstrate the “great care” that has been taken.
Ms Sturgeon added: “All along, we’ve said that we need to make sure that the approach we take to enforcement and indeed, the approach we take to financial penalties or any further prosecution must fit within the distinctive Scottish criminal justice system.
“Around enforcement, we also have to make sure that we’re not putting undue pressure on the police. The police are already working under pressure because of some of the aspects of dealing with coronavirus.”
In the biggest challenge to the quarantine policy yet, Willie Walsh, chief executive of IAG, which owns British Airways, declared it “terrible” and warned it had “torpedoed our opportunity to get flying in July.”
He told Sky News: "We think it's irrational, we think it's disproportionate, and we are giving consideration to a legal challenge to this legislation. We're reviewing that with the lawyers later on today.
"I suspect there are other airlines who are doing so because it's important to point out there was no consultation with the industry prior to enacting this legislation. We do believe it is an irrational piece of legislation."
British Airways declined to join a meeting between Ms Patel and the travel industry to discuss the quarantine on Thursday.
It is understood the Home Office received no reply from the airline after being invited to the discussion, which was attended by several of its competitors including Virgin Atlantic, easyJet and Jet2.
Len McCluskey, general secretary of union Unite, said it was "frankly irresponsible that BA would sit this out.”
The airline has announced plans to cut up to 12,000 jobs as part of a restructuring.
It was confirmed by the Bank of England on Thursday that it has lent £300 million to IAG as part of its emergency pandemic funding.
Meanwhile, airports are putting place tighter restrictions and safeguards in place as key routes are being relaunched.
Passengers travelling through Glasgow and Aberdeen airports will be asked to bring their own face masks, while protective screens and hand sanitisers have been rolled out across both terminals.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said he held on to "hope" that foreign trips would be able to resume before the year is out.
Asked whether he would personally be booking a holiday this year, Mr Shapps said: "Of course we all hope - let's give ourselves some hope here - that by later in the year we will have continued to do all the things we have just talked about and got on top of this virus and the signs are in the right direction."
When put to him that it sounded like he was suggesting he would not be going abroad, he added: "I'm not saying that - I'm simply saying that at the moment the advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is for only essential travel.
"That advice would need to change in order to book a ticket knowing you would definitely be able to travel and that your travel insurance and that sort of thing would be valid.”
Mr Shapps confirmed ministers were continuing to look at the concept of so-called "air corridors" - allowing travel with countries where Covid-19 transmission was low - but said there was no impending announcement to be made.
However, It remains unclear just how freely UK tourists will be able to travel throughout Europe.
The EU has pledged to lift border controls inside its territory by the end of the month, but UK nationals arriving in France and Spain will be required to go into quarantine for 14 days.
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