Watch: Matt Hancock announces punishments for COVID travel rule breakers
People entering England who break government coronavirus travel rules will face up to 10 years in prison, Matt Hancock has announced.
The health secretary said anyone who has lied on a passenger locator form about being in one of the government's 33 "red list" countries over the previous 10 days will face a 10-year sentence.
Hancock said the government will also impose £5,000 fines, rising to £10,000, for UK and Irish nationals who have been in red list countries and fail to quarantine in a government-designated hotel upon arrival.
Foreign nationals who have been in or through any red list countries over the previous 10 days are banned from entering the UK. However, this does not apply to UK and Irish nationals, who will instead have to self-isolate in quarantine hotels – and pay £1,750 – from Monday.
Hancock told MPs in the House of Commons on Tuesday: “People who flout these rules are putting us all at risk.
"I make no apologies for the strength of these measures because we’re dealing with one of the strongest threats to our public health that we’ve faced as a nation.”
However, doubts were immediately cast on Hancock's threat of 10 years in prison for lying about being in a red list country.
"The Secret Barrister", an anonymous lawyer and author, posted on their Twitter account: "SPOILER: It will take a year to investigate you. Another six months until your first court appearance. Another 18 months until your first Crown Court trial. Another 12 months when that trial is adjourned. And if you’re then found guilty, you’re not getting 10 years in prison."
Hancock, meanwhile, also announced people entering England from abroad will have to undergo further coronavirus testing during their subsequent 10-day isolation period.
People will have to take a test two and eight days into their quarantine, and must book these in advance.
And Hancock said there will be a £1,000 penalty for any international arrival who fails to take a test, and a £2,000 fine for any international arrival who fails to take the second test.
Furthermore, anyone who fails to take a test will also see their quarantine period extended by 14 days.
Hancock also confirmed a person who tests negative five days after arrival could mix in the community again – within the rules – but would have to return to quarantine if their test on day eight returned a positive COVID-19 result.
The extra testing will be in addition to the current rules requiring a negative COVID-19 test up to 72 hours before arrival, with proof of this needed to be allowed entry.
People must also provide contact details of where they will be staying for the 10-day isolation period.
This is hard for the authorities to police, and so the imposition of mandatory extra testing – as well as the threat of huge fines and prison sentences for rule breakers – has been presented by the government as toughening its border stance, which has been repeatedly questioned in recent days.
The measures will be put into law this week, Hancock said.
Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth, responding to the announcement for Labour, said the public wants the government to “go further” on border quarantine measures.
He told the Commons: “Our first line of defence is surely to do everything we can to stop [new variants] arising in the first place. That means securing our borders to isolate new variants as they come in. He’s announced a detailed package today but he hasn’t announced comprehensive quarantine controls at the borders.
“So why then, when over half of the countries where the South Africa variant has been identified, why are over half of them not on the so-called red list?"
Hancock said he would "commit to keeping the red list up-to-date".
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