As published in The Daily Mail:
Families should expect a ‘knock on the door’ when they return from abroad, Priti Patel warned last night.
The Home Secretary said enforcement was being stepped up to make sure travellers who visit amber-list countries such as France, Spain and Italy obey the ten-day quarantine rule.
Officials have the capacity to carry out 10,000 home visits a day and 30,000 were conducted last week.
Anyone found to be out when supposedly self-isolating risks a fine of up to £10,000 – although few have been levied so far.
The warning came despite growing optimism of an end to Covid curbs next month and after days of confusion over amber-list countries.
Boris Johnson told MPs yesterday that visits to these medium-risk destinations were acceptable only in ‘extreme circumstances’.
But one analysis said up to 270,000 Britons will fly to amber countries in the five days to Sunday.
Around 1,300 flights were scheduled, carrying up to 54,000 passengers a day to destinations including Spain, Greece, France and Italy.
Miss Patel was asked by the Mail yesterday whether these holidaymakers should expect a ‘knock on the door’ when they got home.
She replied: ‘Yes, people should. There is a service, provision is in place, capacity has been increased for that very reason. People will not go unchecked.
‘Significant resources have been put in place – millions of pounds – in terms of the follow-up checking of people around their testing and making sure they stay at home. It has been stepped up.’
Tory MPs warned that a ‘heavy handed’ approach to enforcement would backfire when there was hope that coronavirus restrictions could be lifted on June 21.
Both Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock yesterday said they were increasingly confident that coronavirus jabs were effective against all variants – including the Indian strain.
The Government lifted the ban on travel on Monday.
But after replacing the outright embargo with a traffic light system, the situation has been mired in chaos. Thousands have flown to amber countries only to be told that they should not travel to them unless it is absolutely essential.
The green list covers only Portugal, along with Gibraltar, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Iceland and the Faroe Islands, plus several small remote islands which are British Overseas Territories.
Travellers to amber countries must self-isolate at home for ten days on their return and take two tests.
A Home Office source said 7,000 home visits were carried out by Test and Trace officials on Tuesday.
The ministry has also established a new Isolation Assurance and Compliance service to monitor arrivals from amber-list countries.
Where people are found to be away from home, police are called to issue fines. A total of 639 have been handed out to date, though this number is now likely to rise significantly.
The approach and mixed messaging has angered the travel industry, which has been left on its knees by a year of on-off lockdowns.
Former Brexit secretary David Davis said: ‘The difficulty is that when the message is confused – and it couldn’t be more confused in this case – people don’t pay attention. It’s the worst of all worlds – it damages the economy, and people are too scared to go away.’
Asked about the prospect of officials knocking at the doors of amber-list returnees, he said: ‘It is heavy-handed, and it won’t work yet again.
‘It’ll be just as effective as the last test and trace.’
Professor Ferguson, who advises the Government on Covid, last night said the effectiveness of home quarantine was ‘much lower than we might have hoped’.
He told ITV’s Peston show: ‘If you’re wanting to stop variants coming into the country through border measures then the only really effective way of doing that is quarantine outside the home.’
Mr Hancock insisted yesterday that the public messaging had been ‘crystal clear’.