One week before the UK’s first blanket quarantine is imposed, The Independent can reveal that at least two million people will qualify for exemption because of their jobs.
According to the wording in the government's list of exemptions, bus drivers, dentists and police officers will be among the professions to dodge 14 days of self-isolation when they travel to the UK from 8 June onwards.
The home secretary, Priti Patel announced the measure on 20 May. Travellers arriving by air, sea and rail will be obliged to spend two weeks out of direct contact with family and friends. No end date has been specified, though the government says the policy will be reviewed every three weeks.
The prospect of quarantine, together with continuing Foreign Office advice against non-essential travel overseas, has caused the UK’s two biggest holiday companies, Tui and Jet2, to cancel all departures in June. Travel businesses report that both inbound and outbound bookings have dried up.
Ministers have hinted that after 29 June a series of bilateral deals, described as “air bridges,” will allow holidaymakers to travel to and from the most popular destinations without the need to self-isolate on arrival – leading to the quarantine plan being described as a “three-week wonder”.
Yet many travellers can legally avoid the obligation, analysis of the list of professional exemptions drafted by the Home Office has shown.
Some jobs are directly related to cross-border travel or highly specialised, such as Eurotunnel train drivers and Euratom inspectors.
The exemption for fruit and vegetable pickers from abroad requires them to self-isolate on a farm, though they can mix with others.
But other categories are far wider. The Independent has calculated that at least two million workers will be able to avoid quarantine.
The highest number is likely to be those who are “a registered health or care professional travelling to the UK to provide essential healthcare, including where this is not related to coronavirus”.
NHS nurses, doctors and ancillary staff returning to Britain after a holiday to resume work are thought likely to qualify, along with a wide range of other medical and care professionals – including dentists.
It is believed at least 1.5 million could claim exemption because of their work in health or care.
The category “road haulage worker and road passenger transport worker” makes no distinction between employees working internationally and those who are simply returning to jobs as truck and bus drivers. It also appears to cover other staff working for bus and coach companies, making hundreds of thousands more eligible.
Police due to resume duties within two weeks of returning to the UK are also exempt.
International commuters will be able to avoid self-isolation if they can demonstrate that they travel to another country professionally at least once a week
Partners and dependents accompanying exempt travellers do not themselves qualify and will be obliged to self-isolate – unless they are with a diplomat or representative of international organisations.
A government spokesperson said: “These cross-government public health measures are designed to keep the transmission rate down, stop new cases being brought in from abroad and help prevent a devastating second wave of coronavirus. All of our decisions have been based on the latest scientific evidence.
“The list of exemptions has been agreed by all government departments in consultation with their stakeholders which will ensure critical supplies and services can continue and will be kept under review.
“People coming into the UK will be required to provide contact and travel information when coming to the UK, including those who are exempt. We will set out further detail shortly including on how we will take action against those who flout the rules."
Travellers who do not qualify for exemption through their profession have other options to avoid self-isolation.
British Airways has offered passengers booked to fly to London from 8 June onwards the chance to switch dates free of charge to fly back before quarantine begins.
The “Dublin dodge,” involving a diversion via the Irish capital on the journey to Britain, also provides exemption. But because it raises risk by increasing the number of interactions, the loophole has been heavily criticised.