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On Thursday evening (13 August), the UK government announced that six countries would no longer be exempt from the country's quarantine rules, and that arrivals from those six countries would have to quarantine for 14 days upon their arrivals.

The change took effect this morning (15 August) at 04:00 BST, approximately 30 hours after the change was announced.

If the government says it wants to act quickly to react to overseas data, why does a change to quarantine rules not take effect immediately on announcement?

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    Because it wants time for people to react to it, and not be caught out unawares? – gktscrk Aug 16 '20 at 7:08
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    There is the counter-argument though that people rushing back to beat the quarantine will at least somewhat defeat its purpose. – Joe C Aug 16 '20 at 8:23
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    Yes, completely agreed. However, I think that the logic goes that in most circumstances, people need to be informed that a law (or directive) is taking effect before it actually does so. That's the same principle. – gktscrk Aug 16 '20 at 12:33
  • in normal times, the idea of announcements taking effect even this quickly would be unthinkable (I remember being on holiday in China about 10 years ago, and our whole party of English tourists was shocked to discover that the government had changed some security regulations the day before our flight and were already in effect when we got to the airport). Obviously these are not normal times, but I suspect that there is still a general wariness towards making changes that take effect especially quickly – Tristan Oct 23 '20 at 15:10
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It seems to be a combination of two factors.

Firstly, the time appears to have been chosen so that the restrictions will come into effect when there are no flights in the air. Yahoo has carried the best transcript of Transport Secretary Grant Shapps' BBC Breakfast interview on Friday morning that I can find:

Asked why it is the case that those who return to the UK from France before 4am on Saturday will not have to quarantine for 14 days whilst those returning after that time would have to do so, he said: “I think the truth of this is, as everyone watching realises, there’s no perfect way to deal with coronavirus.

“Unless you were going to have a sliding scale that sort of said if you stay another 24 hours then you must quarantine for X amount of time, another 36 hours for Y amount of time, you know, clearly there has to be a cut-off somewhere.”

He added: “To be clear, the Joint Biosecurity centre have cleared our approach to this.”

An estimated 160,000 holidaymakers are expected to be looking to return to the UK from France following the government’s announcement.

Shapps said: “It’s a practical approach as well which has enabled all fours parts of the United Kingdom – Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England – to implement the same time at 4am where there are no flights in the air at least tomorrow.

“But, look, I accept your point, you can always argue one way or the other. We have to make a decision on it and we have to do that based on science and medicine, and that’s what we’ve done, we’ve taken the advice and implemented on that basis.”

This reason does hold up to some surface-level scrutiny - one might ask "Why not Friday morning at 4:00?" - but according to FlightRadar24 at least one flight was in the air at that time - a flight from Paris Charles de Gaulle which took off at 3:53 am BST, landing in Newcastle at 5:43 am BST. On the other hand, a similar cursory check on Saturday morning doesn't appear to reveal any planes at all.

The second reason appears to have been to allow travellers to quickly return home before the isolation regulations kicked in. One might argue that this reasoning somewhat defeats the point of the restrictions, and it seems that the devolved administrations agreed.

The FT reports that UK ministers had originally wanted the restrictions to come into effect at 4:00 am on Sunday, in order to "give holidaymakers a greater chance of getting home before they would be forced to self-isolate for 14 days on their return" but that this plan was scuppered by delegations from Scotland & Wales who wanted a more immediate implementation.

As healthcare and the response to the pandemic are both devolved matters, the two administrations appear to have signalled that they would implement their restrictions earlier, and it seems that to reduce confusion the UK ministers agreed to an earlier implementation on Saturday.

This delay may also be due to lessons learned from the implementation of the two-week quarantine imposed on travellers from Spain from July 26th. In that case, the announcement was made on July 25th just after 6 pm BST, leaving a gap of less than six hours before the cut-off. After the deadline, there was then confusion as to whether the restrictions applied to islands such as Majorca, Ibiza and the Canary Islands, and the government faced criticism for the "shambolic" implementation, in response to which the Foreign Secretary said that the government "can't make apologies". A slightly longer gap before implementation is presumably an attempt to mitigate this response.

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  • With regards to the last paragraph, has there been any specific criticism of the timescale of the Spanish quarantine imposition? My understanding was that the shambles related to which parts of Spain were actually included, not when the restrictions began. Changing the timing of the Spanish restrictions would not have made it any less of a mess. – Jontia Aug 17 '20 at 17:42
  • @Jontia Ashworth (Shadow Health) criticises the Gov. towards the end of the BBC article (last link in the post) for not announcing the Spain changes on the Friday, when they received the data which prompted the change. That being said, I agree that a further 24 hours would probably not have improved the messaging substantially in that case. – CDJB Aug 17 '20 at 17:48
  • I feel again that it is a different kind of criticism. Having information and not acting is different from acting (announcing) promptly but with a long lead to the effect. Both may have same time between Gov receiving info and quarentine measures starting, but they are two different errors. (Or methods). – Jontia Aug 17 '20 at 22:11

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