Technically, of course, it’s not a proposal to send people to jail for going on holiday. But taken in the round, the intended effect of it is to scare the living daylights out of any Briton who fancies a week or so of debauchery in Santa Ponza:
Failing to quarantine in a designated hotel after arriving from a “red list” country will carry a fine of between £5,000 and £10,000.
The 10-year jail term would be the maximum penalty for anyone found to have falsified their travel history on the mandatory passenger locator form filled in by travellers when they arrive in the UK.
New border measures also require international arrivals to pay for additional tests during their quarantine period.
“I think the British public would expect pretty strong action” for those who seek to evade hotel quarantine, he said.
Around 1,300 people a week are arriving into the UK from the 33 red list countries – including Portugal, Brazil and South Africa – at the moment, Mr Shapps said.
To explain the thinking behind the jail term, it’s this: because quarantine only applies to travel from red list countries, there’s a certain incentive – a financial incentive – to pretend that you’ve arrived from somewhere else. So, for example, if you really wanted to evade hotel quarantine, in the UK, as a Brit, then you could fly from Portugal to Dublin, book into a hotel for a few nights, and then fly on home to Blighty, and Her Majesty’s Government would be none the wiser, at least in theory.
In fact, that’s exactly what’s been happening, according to reports:
Concerns have been raised as hundreds of British passengers arriving from Dubai have been using Dublin Airport to flout the UK travel restrictions.
The British government banned direct flights from the United Arab Emirate a week ago in an attempt to stop the spread of the South African strain of COVID-19.
But this has resulted in holidaymakers in the Middle East using Dublin as a way to get home, the Sunday Independent reports.
So, the thinking goes, the best way to put a stop to this is to make it so that if someone gets caught doing it, they face into a lengthy stretch at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Draconian is probably too mild a word – it’s beyond extreme.
And there is one big problem with it: It’s got to work. If it doesn’t work, then there’s not realistically much more that any Government can do, short of forcibly grounding passenger flights for good. The problem is that it’s one of those laws that’s so extreme that it can only really be enforced to a limited degree – any more than a few hundred people being sent to prison, and the whole system collapses. Mass disobedience, in other words, is a real risk, the more tyrannical your laws get.
The good news, if you’re Irish, is that there’s little sign that the Irish Government has any inclination to follow suit and introduce similar penalties. Leo Varadkar himself described the new UK laws as draconian the other day.
The more pressing question, really, is how did it come to this?
Measures like this are only necessary when there is a breakdown in trust between the state, and some of its citizens. Clearly, at this point, the number of people who’ve simply had it with lockdown is growing, and the public willingness to comply with restrictions is fraying to the extent that many people are now overtly planning ways to circumvent them.
There comes a point, surely, where the carrot is more effective than the stick? If it gets to the point where you have to threaten people with a decade in jail, just to keep the lockdown working, isn’t it, by definition, close to collapse?
And the problem there is this: If people are willing to flout lockdown by going on holiday, do we not think they are also flouting it in many more everyday, normal, easy ways? In Ireland, Shebeens are now being uncovered regularly. The ban on visiting other people’s houses? Do we really think that’s being complied with?
The most the Government can do, really, is to close things down and limit the public’s options. But it cannot eliminate socialising altogether. And the more strict it gets with things like flying and drinking, the more the desire to breach lockdown will be manifested in a thousand other, less obvious, ways.
The policy, at this point, is unsustainable. Which is another reason why Zero Covid is, to be frank, a pipe dream.