Since the very beginning of the Corvid19 outbreak, constituents have been writing to me demanding the quarantining of all overseas travellers, and many more demanding a ban on passengers from overseas entirely.
I disagreed. First, because my email inbox was daily being filled with desperate constituents who had been on holiday or working abroad and were then having tremendous difficulty trying to come home.
The last thing I would have wanted to do, was to lobby ministers to close the airports to make it even harder, or even impossible for them to get back.
Second, scientific modelling predicted that once the disease was already spreading in the UK, restricting air travel would make little very difference -perhaps slowing the progress by only some three to five days. (In fact, Italy was first-off-the-blocks to impose an early ban on all flights from China but that did not alter the severe spread of the disease there).
The reality was that once the disease was spreading in the UK, travellers from overseas would be as likely to catch it here as they were to have brought it with them
Of course, had we been a remote Island with a small population and had we shut down flights at the very outset, as did New Zealand, then we might have fared as well as they have done. But the UK is not in a remotely similar position to New Zealand, on the contrary, we are the very centre of international finance and culture. We simply could not have acted in that way in time to contain the disease
As the rate of spread in the UK now diminishes and the number of new infections and hospitalisations falls sharply, is it now the time to impose quarantine to prevent infected travellers from re-seeding a renewed spread in the UK?
Clearly, there is some logic to this, but -like the lockdown itself- such actions come at a cost.
I have already used this column to point out that a severe recession will not be avoided even had we carried on without restricting commercial and social activity whatsoever. This is because we would still -as a trading nation and financial centre, have been hit by the shock to the world economy. In addition, the change in consumer behaviour – already responding before the lockdown, would have been even more pronounced as the disease spread.
Sweden avoided a lockdown but is not going to avoid a sharp recession.
Now however, just as we are trying to re-start our economy and mitigate some of the consequences of the damage that has been done to it, is this the time impose a severe restriction on commercial and holiday travel?
We need to be sending the world a signal that we are open for business, but we appear to be doing the very opposite. I know a number of businesses locally that will be further damaged: the imposition on their contractors working on short but important trips to the continent will be very costly.
Let alone the enormous damage that further reductions to inbound tourism will have on our earnings.
I believe that the blanket quarantine decision is a huge mistake and ought to be replaced by the sort of sophisticated airport testing regime which we have now developed, but was simply not available anywhere at the outset of the pandemic.