Tiny numbers taken to quarantine hotels as travellers evade Scotland’s stricter rules

Dan SandersonMon, 15 February 2021, 6:30 pm

Chun Wong and his daughter Kiernan were among the first arrivals at Edinburgh Airport who needed to quarantine in a hotel - Andrew Milligan/PA
Chun Wong and his daughter Kiernan were among the first arrivals at Edinburgh Airport who needed to quarantine in a hotel – Andrew Milligan/PA

Just seven people were taken to quarantine hotels in Scotland on Monday as travellers avoided Nicola Sturgeon’s stricter isolation policy.

It is understood that just six people arriving into Edinburgh Airport on a flight from Turkey were taken into “managed isolation” for 10 nights.

Just one arrival into Aberdeen, from two flights from Norway linked to the oil industry, was caught by the new policy with all other passengers exempt.

The low numbers will add weight to fears that travellers will simply avoid flying directly into Scotland and go to England instead, before travelling north by road or rail.

In England, only those who have been in 33 “red list” countries are required to spend £1,750 on a quarantine hotel. In Scotland, all direct international arrivals by air have to do so, with limited exceptions such as some essential workers and diplomats.

The media film a passenger as he leaves Edinburgh airport after entering the country on the first day that travellers flying directly into Scotland on international flights have to self-isolate for 10 days in a quarantine hotel room - Andrew Milligan/PA
The media film a passenger as he leaves Edinburgh airport after entering the country on the first day that travellers flying directly into Scotland on international flights have to self-isolate for 10 days in a quarantine hotel room – Andrew Milligan/PA

However, it is within the rules to travel to England and then travel north by car, on public transport or even an internal flight, and then isolate at home at no cost.

Sources at Edinburgh Airport said around 60 people had been booked on a Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul, but only six arrived.

The Scottish Government has said it had “block booked” 1,300 rooms at six hotels to accommodate those required to isolate.

A spokesman for Edinburgh Airport expressed fears that the Scottish policy could inflict long-term damage on the country’s economy.

Airlines are expected to ditch the few remaining international routes into Scotland as residents decide to fly into England to get around the tougher rules, and there are no guarantees they will return once travel rules eventually relax.

A family arriving at Edinburgh Airport from Turkey are escorted to a quarantine hotel on February 15 -  Getty Images Europe/Getty
A family arriving at Edinburgh Airport from Turkey are escorted to a quarantine hotel on February 15 – Getty Images Europe/Getty

“We suspect that one of the many negative effects of this pandemic will be a marked deterioration in Scotland’s direct connectivity with Europe and the rest of the world,” the spokesman said.

“We will be starting from levels not seen in Scotland since 1995 so the choice of airlines and destinations may be dramatically different.

“Aviation is a facilitator of many other industries and is important to Scotland’s economy, so we again ask government to meet with aviation and tourism sectors to set out a recovery plan and a package of support.”

The First Minister has come under fire for adopting a harsher quarantine policy to the UK, which has so proven impossible to enforce without UK Government help.

The SNP has asked that all Scottish residents arriving from abroad are put into quarantine hotels in England, or failing that, that their names are handed over so they could be ordered to report to quarantine hotels in Scotland.

The Turkish Airlines flight was the only international arrival into Scotland's busiest airport -  Andrew Milligan/PA
The Turkish Airlines flight was the only international arrival into Scotland’s busiest airport – Andrew Milligan/PA

Matt Hancock, the UK Health Secretary, said on Monday that he was prepared to have “conversations” with his Scottish counterparts about the request. However, UK Government sources have been privately dismissive of the prospects of an agreement being reached.

Ms Sturgeon resurrected talk of closing the land border with England to enforce the rules if the UK Government did not agree to help. However, police have said they have no plans to carry out vehicle checks.

“I don’t rule it out,” Ms Sturgeon said, when asked about closing the border. “I am not sure is the best solution to have now. If it’s the only one I can put into place, then it may come to that.”

Graham Simpson, transport spokesman for the Scottish Tories, described the SNP’s border policy as “a huge shambles”.

He added: “Airport staff and travellers have been left in chaos because of the SNP’s lack of attention to detail.

“The SNP trying to pass the buck to the UK Government is a cynical attempt to cause a distraction. Scots want our two governments working together to control the pandemic.”