COMMENTARY

COVID-19: 'Good News at Last'

Prof Kamlesh Khunti 

Disclosures

February 15, 2021

Kamlesh Khunti, professor of primary care, diabetes and vascular medicine, University of Leicester, reflects on the UK's vaccination programme and international quarantine arrangements. Prof Khunti is a member of the SAGE Government expert advisory group but is speaking in a personal capacity.

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

At last, we have a number of areas of good news regarding this terrible pandemic.

Firstly, the rates of coronavirus are improving at last after weeks of lockdown.

And secondly, the UK vaccination programme has been a massive success, with nearly 15 million people vaccinated within a few weeks.

This is indeed a tremendous achievement because these are people in the highest risk category, the first top four categories, who have been vaccinated.

However, there are some worries regarding the COVID virus variants, and particularly the South African variant, which seem to be resistant to some vaccines, especially recent data for the AstraZeneca vaccine, based on a small study of young people in South Africa, although it may still protect against severe disease.

With this news, the UK Government has taken very strict measures for those travelling to the UK, with the aim of reducing the introduction of the variant strains in the UK. So from 15 February, everyone arriving will now have to take two coronavirus tests while quarantining. They have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test to be allowed entry. It must have been taken 72 hours before travelling with Border Force officials carrying out spot checks.

Travellers must then self-isolate for 10 days. They will need to take a coronavirus test on days 2 and 8 of the quarantine, which they will have to pay for themselves. If they test positive, they must self-isolate for 10 days.

The results are normally quite good and received within 24 to 48 hours. People who share a household with anyone self-isolating after returning from these countries now also need to self-isolate until 10 days have passed since anyone they live with was last in one of these countries.

From 15 February UK residents and Irish nationals arriving from 33 'red list' countries will also need to quarantine at hotels selected by the Government.

The red list consists mainly of countries in South America and Africa, One European country, Portugal, is included because of its linked to Brazil. The United Arab Emirates quite a popular destination is also on this list.

In England, this will cost £1750 pounds per passenger travelling along to cover transport, tests, and accommodation. Accommodation will need to be prebooked well in advance.

Those who fail to quarantine in a designated hotel face fines of up to £5000-£10,000 pounds. Anyone who lies on their passenger locator form about having been in a country on the red list will face a prison sentence up to 10 years - quite drastic measures.

There will be a £1000 pound fine for any international traveller who fails to take a mandatory Coronavirus test. This will be followed by £2000 pounds fine for failing to take a second test, with quarantine automatically extended to 14 days.

Airlines can also be fined £2000 pounds for passengers arriving without completed forms and an advanced negative test. A small number of workers are exempt from quarantine. These include pilots and some seasonal agricultural workers.

Arrivals, as soon as they get to the UK, will be escorted straight to the hotel, and they will have to stay in their rooms for 10 days with security guards accompanying them if they need to go outside.

However, there have been criticisms regarding these quarantine measures. Because they do not seem strict enough, unlike some of other countries.

In the UK people will be allowed to go out for walks etc. In a country such as Australia, people are not allowed to leave their rooms at all throughout the quarantine period. Only time will tell if the quarantine measures help drive the UK cases to a level that would mean we could come out of lockdown and remain so for the foreseeable future.

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