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Obvious flaw in SNP's hotel quarantine policy 'increases risk of virus spreading', warn experts

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 14/02/2021 Dan Sanderson
graphical user interface, website: Passengers after arriving at Edinburgh airport, Scotland, ahead of new quarantine rules in Scotland  - Andrew Milligan/PA © Andrew Milligan/PA Passengers after arriving at Edinburgh airport, Scotland, ahead of new quarantine rules in Scotland  - Andrew Milligan/PA

Nicola Sturgeon’s draconian stance on quarantine hotels risks fuelling the spread of coronavirus because people will travel hundreds of miles on public transport to avoid her harsher rules, experts have warned.

A new system requiring all people flying into Scotland from outside the British isles to spend 10 nights in an quarantine hotel comes into force at 4am on Monday.

However, a major flaw means those arriving into English airports from counties not on the UK "red list", then travelling on to Scotland by road or rail, will be able to avoid having to quarantine under state supervision at a cost of £1,750. 

Instead, they will be able to complete the isolation period in their own homes for free, which will be entirely within the rules.

Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen, labelled the SNP policy “daft” and said the vast majority of international travellers would simply book flights to England to avoid expensive confinement in a hotel room.

a young boy sitting at a table using a laptop: Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, attends the First Minister's Questions at the Scottish Parliament - Pool/Reuters © Provided by The Telegraph Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, attends the First Minister's Questions at the Scottish Parliament - Pool/Reuters

This would mean more Scots travelling home from English hubs on buses or trains - something the Scottish Government has admitted increases the risk of Covid-19, and potentially dangerous new variants, spreading.

In England, only those arriving from 33 “red list” countries will have to isolate in hotels. In Scotland, the hotel quarantine requirement applies to all international arrivals by air.

“I’d be very surprised if many folk are going to fly into Scotland and pay large sums to put themselves in a quarantine hotel, when they don’t have to," Prof Pennington said.

“People are instead going to be spending hours on a train, a bus, or whatever to get around these rules and in doing so they might be infecting other people. The whole thing hasn’t been thought through, it’s a daft policy and it adds another layer of risk.”

SNP ministers have talked up the prospects of installing road border checkpoints to enforce what Ms Sturgeon has compared to a “ring of steel” policy similar to Australia and New Zealand. 

However, police have shown no appetite for helping set up a hard border, and Michael Matheson, the transport secretary, acknowledged on Sunday that setting up checks would be “very challenging” due to high traffic volumes.

As their policy unravelled, nationalist politicians instead ramped up attacks on the UK Government. 

The SNP want UK ministers to either agree to put Scottish residents from non-red list countries in English quarantine hotels or to hand over names of Scottish arrivals so they could order them to "report" to a quarantine hotel north of the border. 

However, the UK Government is understood to view the requests as ridiculous and believe it is not their job to enforce SNP policy in England. 

Linda Bauld, Professor of Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, said the lack of a UK-wide approach to quarantine “is going to be a problem”.

“It is certainly possible people could fly back into Heathrow or Gatwick for example from a country not on the UK government's red list and then use public transport to return to Scotland in order to avoid the quarantine system here,” she said. 

“This poses several risks. The first is to others on public transport if the travellers are positive for coronavirus, which is possible even if they've had to show a negative test result from up to 72 hours prior to flying back to the UK. 

“The second is to others in Scotland once they return home and if they don't self-isolate, which we know has been an issue with the voluntary system up until now.”

She added: “Enforcement of this is going to be very difficult and it worries me, particularly if we continue to drive down case numbers in Scotland. 

“We really can't afford to be re-seeding infection from overseas in the coming months while vaccines are still being rolled out and we hope more sectors of the economy can reopen.”

Mr Matheson claimed the UK Government had “created” the English border problem, even though it was Ms Sturgeon who announced she would adopt a tougher policy.

Meanwhile, Ian Blackford, the SNP Westminster leader, claimed UK ministers were at risk of “actively undermining Scotland’s Covid suppression strategy” and showing a “blatant disregard for devolved governments” by refusing to enforce the Scottish rules.

However, the Scottish Tories claimed the SNP was attempting to start a row with Westminster to deflect from the “mess” they had made of their own plans.

The Scottish Government has said it has block booked around 1,300 hotel rooms for quarantine. However, only three international flights are due into Scotland on Monday, and airports expect many of the few remaining routes to be axed as Scots fly to England instead. 

Monica Lennon, Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman, said: “Under the current arrangements, it is quite possible that people returning to Scotland may fly into English airports and make the journey over the border on public transport. 

“This could further risk public health, particularly the safety of transport workers. Tory and SNP ministers need to behave like adults and urgently agree a plan that minimises travel and the spread of Covid within the UK.”

 

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