Go to work, don’t go to work — confusion in U.K.’s virus policy

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While many people are asking why Britain did not do it sooner — logically, at the beginning of the lockdown like most other countries — the U.K. has just announced this week it will be forcing all arrivals at its airports to self-quarantine for 14 days on arrival.

The U.K. received nearly 300 million passenger arrivals in 2019 and continued with 100,000 even during the month of March in the grip of a supposed lockdown, according to Civil Aviation Authority data.

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To introduce a quarantine policy now sounds somewhat like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, but there you are: maybe that’s politicians for you.

Needless to say, airlines that were desperately hoping their near-total shutdown was coming to an end are horrified by the proposal and are asking why anyone would fly if they were going to quarantine for 14 days afterward as a result?

Support for the airline industry’s position has come, unexpectedly, from the manufacturing sector.

Naturally, suppliers to the aerospace sector are as keen to see their clients back to work as the aircraft manufacturers themselves. Automotive companies and food manufacturers have also reacted with panic to the government’s new guidelines, according to the Financial Times.

The automotive, aviation, chemical, food and pharmaceutical industries all warned exemptions would be needed to ensure the smooth operation and safety of their factories, many of which depend on specialist “fly-in, fly-out” engineers to service production lines, the Financial Times reported.

Underlining what joined-up integrated supply chains European firms operate, industry leaders said a quarantine scheme would cut off critical expertise needed to maintain the specialist machinery and production lines used in U.K. factories. A production breakdown, once occurred, could involve lengthy and expensive repairs setting back output for days or weeks. Vehicle manufacturers, pharmaceutical producers, chemicals, and food and drink have all individually and collectively voiced their opposition to the plan and pleaded for special exemptions.

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The strength and speed of industries’ response to the weekend announcement has taken ministers by surprise and stimulated a rethink. It is unlikely rules will be relaxed for tourists or regular business travelers but with the focus shifting to spurring manufacturing and business activity, an exception for such critical skills seems sensible.

Quite how they will be defined and who qualifies becomes the thorny issue. Like all exemptions, everyone thinks they qualify and will no doubt endeavor to drive holes in the policy.

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