PASSENGERS on just 19 of the 247 flights landing at Scotland’s major airports next week will be subject to hotel quarantine, leading to fears that new Covid variants will continue to be imported.
The Scottish Government is taking a tougher line than the UK Government by demanding 10-day supervised quarantine in hotels for all international arrivals, rather than the 33 ‘red list’ countries.
However, it can only impose this on travellers flying directly into Scotland – not on those who catch connecting flights from hubs such as Heathrow.
The policy will take effect from Monday, with eligible travellers facing bills of £1,750 for hotel accommodation plus Covid testing on days one and eight of isolation.
All international arrivals into Scotland will have to quarantine in hotels from Monday
Aberdeen Airport has just 10 international flights scheduled next week – all coming from Norway – while Glasgow Airport has none.
At Edinburgh Airport, there will be just nine international flights – from Paris, Doha, Istanbul, Krakow and Helsinki – with a further 29 domestic flights.
Professor Linda Bauld, chair of public health at Edinburgh University’s Usher Institute, stressed that international travel is “not the biggest threat” right now compared to the levels of virus already circulating in the community, but that as domestic cases fall it will become increasingly vital to protect against new imports.
Scotland is averaging around 900 Covid cases per day, compared to eight per day in early July
Prof Bauld said: “We should set up this managed quarantine system now as we know outbreaks can be seeded by even small numbers of people.
“It will be increasingly important in the months to come when I hope we’ll get domestic cases down to tiny numbers.
“In that situation, preventing the introduction of new infections from overseas will be key.”
Professor Linda Bauld
The vast majority of passenger flights into Scotland currently – including 228 next week – come from elsewhere in the UK, or from the Common Travel Area (CTA) of Ireland, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man.
All domestic and CTA travellers are exempt from quarantine, while all international arrivals into the UK – including those who travel on to Scotland – are required to self-isolate at home for 10 days.
However, checks are limited compared to hotel quarantine, where passengers must remain in their rooms 24/7 with security guards patrolling the corridors.
Under the UK Government policy, hotel quarantine will be limited to 33 countries where potential exposure to South African and Brazilian variants is considered to be higher – mainly in South America and parts of Africa, but also Portugal and Dubai.
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These mutations are believed to make the virus more contagious and potentially resistant to antibodies, which could reduce the effectiveness of existing Covid vaccines.
However, the list does not include other countries where the variants have been detected, such as France, Belgium or Canada.
Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said the Scottish Government wants all international arrivals into the UK who are flying on to Scotland to be accommodated in quarantine hotels in England first, but no agreement has so far been reached.
He stressed that without a blanket requirement for hotel quarantine the UK would continue to be exposed to as yet undetected variants.
Mr Matheson said: “With very limited genome sequencing going on globally, data on new variants is unreliable.
“So it is very hard to say with confidence where the high risk countries are – even for the variants we know about.”
Genomic sequencing shows that 40 per cent of new Covid strains introduced into Scotland last summer were brought from overseas, with the rest coming from elsewhere in the UK.
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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said ministers remain hopeful of finding a “workable solution”.
“The whole point of managed quarantine is not to have people travelling before they’ve done that quarantine,” she said.
“We continue to discuss with the UK Government how we can work together to make sure that that is a system that gives as much protection to Scotland as possible.
“The easiest thing would be for the whole of the UK to have the same approach to managed quarantine.
“We are still hopeful we can persuade the UK Government to go further than they have gone, but that’s their decision.”
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Mr Matheson said rooms will be “block-booked” for quarantine at six hotels near Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Glasgow airports, with a combined capacity of 1,300 rooms.
He added that the number of international arrivals into Scotland is already reducing, with a spokesman for Edinburgh Airport estimating that their international flights next week will be only 20% full.
The spokesman described hotel quarantine as a “very severe measure”, and called for clarity on how the industry will be supported.
He said: “We await to hear how they intend to implement this, how it will be enforced, who will enforce it and what we are being asked to contribute.”