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Why are there still flights coming into the UK and what are the restrictions on travelling?

Barney Davis
·4-min read
<p>A live image of flights over the United Kingdom</p> (Flightradar24)

A live image of flights over the United Kingdom


The UK is in lockdown. But looking at pictures of passengers arriving at Heathrow last week, you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise: long snaking queues of people waiting to go through immigration, mostly masked-up but with little hope of social distancing.

Currently anyone entering the country has to isolate for 10 days, although this policy is set to be beefed up with the introduction of mandatory hotel quarantine for those arrive from high-risk coronavirus hotspots.

As Britons are told to forget about booking foreign holidays anytime soon, you might ask: why are people still flying into the UK at all?

What are the current rules?

Boris Johnson scrapped all travel corridors earlier this month to “protect against the risk of as yet unidentified new strains” of coronavirus.

It means that now arrivals from every destination need to self-isolate for 10 days, or receive a negative result from a coronavirus test taken at least five days after they enter the UK.

Direct flights from parts of the world with new coronavirus variants, such as South Africa and Brazil, are banned.

Currently all travellers must provide contact details and their UK address. They can then travel - by public transport if necessary - to their home or to the place where they plan to self-isolate.

People queue at terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport, as the spread of the coronavirus disease continuesPIA JOSEPHSON via REUTERS
People queue at terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport, as the spread of the coronavirus disease continuesPIA JOSEPHSON via REUTERS

How many people are flying into the UK every day?

The exact number is hard to quantify. Air traffic records stop at 2019, when a record 296,658,000 passengers passed through UK airports on arriving and departing flights.

This number is believed to have sharply fallen but one newspaper claimed 10,000 people were still coming in a day through Heathrow Airport. These numbers are estimates and can be far lower.

There are anecdotal reports of planes arriving in the UK largely empty, and holiday companies such as TUI have now grounded all flights.

Which jobs are exempt from travel restrictions?

The Government have published a lengthy list of the type of jobs that are exempt from quarantine which is continually updated.

The protected roles include; elite sportspeople, nuclear technology workers, seasonal agricultural workers and other key infrastructure workers.

Drivers of goods need only to provide a passenger locator form and do not need to provide a negative Covid test or self-isolate.

Business directors bringing jobs and investment to the UK, journalists, advertising and performing arts proffessionals were all struck off on January 18.

Despite these rules and exemptions, it is reported there are not any specific reason-for-travel checks by officials on arrivals.

What have other countries done?

Australia and New Zealand both closed their borders to almost all visitors in March, although travellers from New Zealand have been allowed to enter most Australian states without quarantine since October.

In Ireland you must fill in a passenger locator form. Failing to do so results in a fine of £2,200 a prison term of up to six months, or both.

Passengers arriving from South Africa or the UK must have tested negative for the virus within 72 hours of their arrival in Ireland and are still required to isolate for 14 days.

Where are flights coming from?

A look at the Heathrow arrivals board shows dozens of flights arriving from countries including Hong Kong, United Arab Emirates, the United States and Nigeria, as well as a host of domestic flights.

London Stansted had only four incoming flights scheduled for January 26 from Istanbul and eastern Europe.

Are these rules likely to change soon?

Boris Johnson is expected to approve plans to force some travellers arriving in the UK to quarantine in hotels to limit the spread of new coronavirus variants.

The Prime Minister will discuss proposals for arrivals to quarantine in designated hotels to ensure they follow self-isolation rules with senior ministers on Tuesday.

Reports have suggested that arrivals would have to cover the price of quarantining in hotels for 10 days, potentially setting them back more than £1,000.

When can I book a summer holiday?

Millions of people in Britain were today advised by a Government minister not to book a summer holiday abroad at this stage as new border controls are set to be introduced.

Asked whether his advice to people considering booking a summer holiday now was not to do so right now, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi responded: “Absolutely.

“At the moment, we have reached base camp, if I can describe it as that, with the vaccine deployment programme, over six and a half million people now with the first dose..a long way to go.

“We have had tremendous performance, the NHS family, our armed forces, the private sector, and the brilliant volunteers have come together to deliver this deployment.

“It’s far too early, there are still 37,000 people in hospital with Covid at the moment, it’s far too early for us to even speculate about the summer.”