NEWS
11/05/2020 08:34 BST | Updated 11/05/2020 10:39 BST

Coronavirus: PM's Quarantine Plans Spark Confusion, And Four Other Stories You Need To Know

Boris Johnson's announcement of 14-day isolation for air passengers labelled "chaotic", while government is criticised for "lethal" mixed messages. Here's the latest.

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The prime minister’s announcement of a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all travellers arriving into the UK by air – with the exemption of France – has sparked widespread confusion, as concerns are raised about the government’s potentially “lethal” mixed messages. 

To date, 31,855 people have died in the UK after contracting coronavirus, and almost 220,000 have tested positive. 

Statista

Here’s what you should know: 

Confusion surrounds PM’s quarantine announcement, as France revealed to be exempt

ADRIAN DENNIS via Getty Images
Boris Johnson greets French president Emmanuel Macron.

Plans for a mandatory quarantine for people flying into the UK has sparked confusion, as questions are raised about how the measures will be put into effect, while it was also revealed that France is to be exempt from the order. 

During his address to the nation on Sunday evening Johnson said it will “soon be the time” to bring in a period of quarantine in order to stave off Covid-19 infection from abroad.

He said: “To prevent reinfection from abroad, I am serving notice that it will soon be the time, with transmission significantly lower, to impose quarantine on people coming into this country by air.

“And it is because of your efforts to get the R down and the number of infections down here, that this measure will now be effective.”

The situation has since been described as “chaotic”, with calls from the government to set out a plan to support the travel industry through the crisis. 

It has been further complicated by the announcement that Johnson and French president Emmanuel Macron have agreed quarantine measures would not apply between France and the UK “at this stage”.

Downing Street issued the statement after the pair spoke on Sunday.

“The prime minister and the president agreed to work together in taking forward appropriate border measures. This co-operation is particularly necessary for the management of our common border.

“No quarantine measures would apply to travellers coming from France at this stage; any measures on either side would be taken in a concerted and reciprocal manner.”

Johnson did not mention arrivals by sea, and he did not make clear whether it would include passengers on internal UK flights or on flights from the Republic of Ireland.

A government official said quarantine is “a few weeks away from happening yet”, adding: “What the scientific advice tells you is that when domestic transmission is high, imported cases represent a small amount of the overall total and make no significant difference to the epidemic.

“However, this can change when the domestic transmission rate of infection is low and people are arriving from countries with a higher rate of infection.”

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “This news will add to the confusion that British travellers are currently facing when trying to work out whether they can travel as planned, safely rebook postponed holidays, and when they will receive the refunds they are entitled to under consumer law for cancelled trips.

“The situation is chaotic: the guidance issued by the government against travelling abroad is indefinite, and yet some airlines and travel companies are selling flights and holidays due to depart within the next few weeks which carry no warning that they are unlikely to go ahead as planned.

On Saturday, Airport Operators Association (AOA) chief executive Karen Dee said: “Quarantine would not only have a devastating impact on the UK aviation industry, but also on the wider economy.” 

Dr Peter Drobac, a medical doctor specialising in infectious diseases and an academic at the University of Oxford, said the quarantine plan would have been a “smart” thing to do in February and early March.

“And that might have made a really big difference,” he said.

Commenting on the enforcement of a quarantine, Drobac added: “You can’t wave a magic wand and say we’re having a quarantine and expect it to work.

“There’s got to be a lot of infrastructure in place to make that effective.”

Johnson to set out ‘road map’ for lockdown exit 

Handout via Getty Images
Boris Johnson is to publish more details on the 'road map' to leaving lockdown. 

Boris Johnson is set to reveal more details on his plan to gradually lift the lockdown in England after setting out the first elements of his “road map” during Sunday night’s address. 

The PM will face questions both from MPs and the public on Monday, while No. 10 will release its official 5-page guidance document in Parliament. 

Johnson has faced heavy criticism over his basic plans set out on Sunday evening, with a significant backlash directed towards his announcement that employees who cannot work from home – such as those in construction and manufacturing – should be encouraged to return to work from Monday. 

Union leaders have accusing the PM of sending mixed messages which could have “lethal” consequences, after urging the government for weeks to ensure workplaces are safe and supplied with adequate PPE. 

John Philips, acting general secretary of the GMB, said: “More mixed messages from the government – saying there’s no end to lockdown, but asking everyone to go back to work.

“If ministers want the economy moving again, we need strict rules on hygiene and social distancing, enough PPE for everyone, and regulations employers can’t just ignore if they fancy it.

“The overall message is contradictory and confusing, when what people really need is clarity.”

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) advised its members not to work if they felt unsafe, saying the government was shifting away from the stay at home message, which would unleash a surge in passengers on the railways and Tubes from tomorrow, breaching social- distancing measures with “potentially lethal consequences” for staff and the public.

Dave Ward, general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, said the new “stay alert” slogan was meaningless rhetoric, adding: “Tonight the prime m minister told millions of people they can immediately return to work – with 12 hours notice for many, telling them they can’t use public transport and with no assurances on whether PPE, social distancing and other safety measures will be in place.

“That wasn’t a message from the prime minister. It was a message from big business and those who put profit before people.

“Never mind being led by the science, the British response is now being led by the money.”

New details of coronavirus alert system set out

More details of a new alert system, established to monitor the threat posed by Covid-19, were set out by the PM on Sunday evening. 

The system, similar to that used to establish the terrorist threat, will be run by a new Joint Biosecurity Centre.

The UK is currently at level four of the five-tier system, just below the “most critical” threat – the kind that would have seen the NHS swamped by coronavirus cases.

Boris Johnson used his address to the nation to suggest the country was now edging towards level three.

The further down the Covid alert level ladder the country goes, the more lockdown measures could be eased.

The PM said: “We are establishing a new Covid alert system run by a new Joint Biosecurity Centre.

“And that Covid alert level will be determined primarily by R and the number of coronavirus cases.

“And in turn that Covid alert level will tell us how tough we have to be in our social-distancing measures – the lower the level, the fewer the measures.

“The higher the level, the tougher and stricter we will have to be.”

Mike Pence says he ‘plans to be at the White House’ amid reports he is self-isolating 

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Reports on Sunday suggested that the vie president had gone into self-isolation, something he has since denied. 

US vice president Mike Pence has said he is not self-isolating after one of his aides tested positive for the coronavirus and plans to return to the White House on Monday, after reports suggested he had gone into quarantine. 

“Vice president Pence will continue to follow the advice of the White House medical unit and is not in quarantine,” a Pence spokesperson told HuffPost.

“Additionally, vice president Pence has tested negative every single day and plans to be at the White House tomorrow.”

Both Bloomberg News and the Associated Press reported Sunday that Pence, who leads the nation’s coronavirus task force, had been self-isolating after he was exposed to an aide that tested positive for the virus on Friday. 

Pence spokesperson Katie Miller, whose husband, Stephen Miller, also works in the White House, confirmed she has been diagnosed with COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus. The previous day, the White House confirmed a valet frequently in close contact with President Donald Trump tested positive, as well. 

A number of other Trump administration officials have entered self-isolation after being exposed to the coronavirus including Dr Anthony Fauci,  the administration’s top infectious disease expert and a member of Trump’s coronavirus task force, who said he would enter “modified quarantine”. 

Signs that coronavirus is adapting to humans sparks concern among scientists 

KENZO TRIBOUILLARD via Getty Images
Scientists have been left concerned by signs the virus may be adapting. 

Researchers studying coronavirus have reportedly found evidence that mutations in some strains of coronavirus may be adapting to humans. 

The Guardian reports that while analysis of more than 5,300 genomes from 62 countries reveals that the virus is relatively stable, some strains had mutated.

The alterations include two genetic changes that alter the “spike protein”, which is critical in allowing the virus to infect human cells. 

Scientists based at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have said it is unclear how the mutations affect the virus – but as they occurred independently in different countries they could help the virus spread more effectively.  

“This is exactly what we need to look out for,” said Martin Hibberd, a professor of emerging infectious diseases and a senior author on the study, said.

“People are making vaccines and other therapies against this spike protein because it seems a very good target. We need to keep an eye on it and make sure that any mutations don’t invalidate any of these approaches.”

Infographic supplied by Statista