Are We Morally Obliged to Quarantine When We Return from Abroad?


The Thursday night that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced returnees from France, the Netherlands, Malta, Turks and Caicos, and Aruba would have to quarantine for 14 days on their arrival – if they returned after 4 am GMT on Saturday – I was already packed and ready to return from my week away in Paris.

Unlike hundreds of other travellers who had holidayed abroad, my trip was pre-booked for me to return on Friday – and therefore avoid quarantine. However, several people asked me if I should be quarantining.

Technically, no. But morally?

Stena Line, who operates ferries to and from the Hook of Holland to Harwich in Essex, raced to ensure passengers on-board their 10 pm departure on Friday – which usually would arrive in the UK at 6 am the next morning – did not have to quarantine. Their ferry arrived hours earlier than planned, at 3:45 am.

But as one passenger told The Independent’s Simon Calder, ‘This seems to me as enforcing the measures according to the letter of the law, not the spirit of the law.’

Does racing back do anything to stop the spread of the virus? Of course not – in fact, whilst I may have benefitted from the government’s 30-hour notice period, it is the case that it should operate as it is in Wales. If you are abroad when the new measures are announced – tough. No notice period for you.

Not only does it lead to issues of masses of people returning to the UK, potentially carrying COVID, but it also causes a moral issue. For the individual, should you quarantine? I’ve chosen not to – though my dire social life means it is unlikely I’ll break any social distancing measures anytime soon – and, according to the letter of the law, my arrival in the UK on Friday lunchtime means I am under no requirement to do so. For the travel industry, rife profiteering from people’s difficulty leaves individuals abroad with a tricky decision: fork out a huge fee to return to the UK in time to avoid quarantine (even if they are potentially COVID-carriers), or return when originally planned but have to miss two weeks of work, study, or whatever it is you might have done during that period.

The only flights available on Friday were via British Airways, which quadrupled in cost overnight from £100 to £405 from Paris to Heathrow. The last available Eurostar ticket was £303 and was only available for Business Premier travellers. The Eurotunnel Le Shuttle only had limited availability to 12 noon on Friday, after which any passengers who were not pre-booked would have no hope of crossing the border and the Channel in time to return.

With companies profiteering, and individuals making decisions – like whether to quarantine or not if you got back before the deadline – travelling during the pandemic has been stressful to say the least for many, and even on return – morally, should I stay in for 2 weeks, even though I had already planned to return before quarantine measures were imposed? Perhaps if I lived in Wales (in which case I would be, at the time of writing, in my 6th day of quarantine) I’d have a different perspective.

However, the risk component when it comes to travelling is also important to consider. Many countries with ‘air bridges’ have very low COVID cases and, if you can afford to take two weeks off to quarantine (in the unfortunate situation that cases rise again), then enjoy travelling. It is such a unique time to explore the world and, with many places actually safer than the UK (according to the ECDPC’s figures on cases per 100,000 population) like – at the time of writing – Italy and Germany – is a break abroad any more dangerous than a staycation?

Whether travelling abroad or having a staycation, the advice is broadly the same – as much as I’m not keen on the government’s messaging – ‘hands, face, space’.



Sports Editor and 2nd Year Population & Geography student

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