Monday, June 08, 2020

Quarantine and the flight from reason

Britain is, from today, requiring all visitors (subject to certain exemptions) from abroad to quarantine for 14 days. At first sight this may appear sensible, a way to prevent the resurgence of the covid-19 virus at a time when it appears at last to be diminishing. At second sight it appears utterly daft, gormless and another example of the ineptness of a government that is making it up as it goes along (although tirelessly claiming to be "following the science").

New Zealand also has quarantine rules. They are very strict. Nobody gets in, except residents. All returnees are taken to government controlled hotels and must remain there for 14 days. New Zealand has not recorded deaths from the virus for a while and has very few new cases.

Britain is going to require everyone to do the same, right? No. The scheme is self-assessed. It is up to the arrivals to provide the authorities with information about where they are staying and then to go there (themselves) and remain there. They are not taken to their accommodation so presumably it is fine that they travel there anyway they choose, cheerfully spreading the virus as they go. They may be spot-checked or they may not after that, it's all delightfully vague.

And those exemptions  Oh yes. Lorry drivers, seasonal workers and the like can come in freely. Also anyone travelling from Ireland. So what prevents someone going to Dublin first and then flying straight on here? Umm, nothing.

In any case New Zealand, which put in tough rules right at the start, has contained the infection. But only now, after three months of it, are we doing the same. Why is it now sensible to do this, at a time when the travel and entertainment sectors are being wiped out? Oh, because we don't want the infection rate to increase due to all those nasty foreigners spreading it. But - and this is a massive but - most countries have lower infection rates than we do. The probability of the virus spreading due to foreigners is less than it is from the domestic population. A German arrival at Heathrow was filmed making this very comment.
 

Now, if we were really following the science, then either we would have had a proper quarantine system in place weeks ago or we should allow in people who can prove they have been for a reasonable time in countries with significantly lower infection rates. We are in a different place altogether, putting in a washy-washy scheme that is full of loopholes and which will achieve nothing at all. Meanwhile huge gatherings of young people, protesting about racial discrimination, are probably going to trigger a second surge.

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