Elites from the world of business, entertainment, and the media will be able to enjoy bypassing the strict coronavirus two-week quarantine that ordinary passengers have to abide by if they are travelling from ‘high risk’ coronavirus countries.
Anyone entering the UK from the some 130 high-risk countries, including the United States and most of Europe, have to self-isolate on arrival for two weeks or face a £10,000 fine. There are necessary exemptions in place for hauliers, airline pilots and staff, diplomats, coach drivers, emergency service workers, and around 50 other groups.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced on Thursday that these exemptions would be even further expanded from Saturday to include those who fall under the “new business traveller exemption”. The minister wrote on social media that “high-value business travellers will no longer need to self-isolate when returning to England from a country not in a travel corridor, allowing more travel to support the economy and jobs”.
Also, “certain performing arts professionals, TV production staff, journalists, and recently signed elite sportspersons will also be exempt, subject to specific criteria being met”, he added.
The Times estimates that the exemptions would apply to some tens of thousands of businessmen and entertainers. The rules would be applicable only for “specific business activity” such as for signing contracts or making investments, or if travel is of “significant benefit to the UK economy – including activity that creates or preserves 50+ UK jobs”, the Department for Transport detailed in guidance published on Thursday.
The DfT rationalised the same exemption for athletes, entertainers, and journalists coming from outside the UK’s narrow travel corridor would guarantee “that industries which require specific, high-talent individuals who rely on international connections can continue to complete their work”.
talkRADIO host Julia Hartley-Brewer challenged Business Secretary Alok Sharma over how the Chinese coronavirus could tell the difference between an elite and the common people, asking: “Can you point me to the medical evidence that rich people can’t transmit the virus, but poor people can?” Mr Sharma responded indirectly, by saying that Public Health England and the NHS claimed the numbers would be too low to “have an impact in terms of health risks”.
Julia challenges Business Secretary Alok Sharma over the travel quarantine exemption for ‘high-value’ business travellers: “Can you point me to the medical evidence that rich people can’t transmit the virus but poor people can?”@JuliaHB1 | @AlokSharma_RDG pic.twitter.com/aF1dTxkpco
— talkRADIO (@talkRADIO) December 4, 2020
The privileged travel corridors are reminiscent of the Soviet Russian “ZiL” lanes of Moscow’s roads, reserved for senior Communist diplomats often riding in their ZiL or Chaika-made limousines, able to bypass ordinary traffic. The term came into usage in Britain during the 2012 Olympics, with ‘Game Lanes’ in London reserved for officials from the International Olympic Committee and athletes being dubbed ZiL lanes.
The decision has already been embroiled in confusion after claims that the figure of investment needed to secure the exemption is far lower than those stated by the business secretary.
Alok Sharma said on LBC this morning that high-value businessmen will need to have invested some £100 million into the UK economy in order to take advantage of the scheme, repeating the figure he had quoted to Ms Hartley-Brewer earlier this morning. However, Matthew Thompson, a senior reporter for LBC, also said that the DfT had told him the threshold was just £100,000.
We are, of course, working to clarify the situation and will get to the bottom of this for you.
But coupled with the impression of "one rule for them" that it left yesterday, it's not been a great policy launch, has it?
— Matthew Thompson (@mattuthompson) December 4, 2020