Children under 18 are able to skip quarantine and expensive testing upon their UK arrival from an amber list country, but only if they live in the UK, the government confirmed to The London Economic.
The measure was implemented from this week, when fully-vaccinated adults are also able to travel to often less risky countries without the need to quarantine upon their UK return, but only if the vaccine was given by the NHS.
This has not been extended to the people of the very same countries to travel to the UK.
The new rules have sparked a lot of upset and confusion among British and EU parents and their children, who live in amber list countries, and a quick look at the website shows why.
Vague guidance on rules
Vague words such as “children returning” are used or even worse, children are referred to as a homogenous group, not taking into account that some parents of non-UK resident children may mistakenly believe skipping quarantine and expensive testing applies to them too – and risking fines or further hassle if it appears they are breaking the unclear rules.
On just one page, the first bit of guidance referring to children reads that those “under the age of 18 are exempt from quarantine on returning to England from amber countries”.
The next paragraph referring to children says kids “under the age of 18 will not have to isolate when returning to England”, but doesn’t specify this is the case just for UK-based children.
A statement from transport secretary Grant Shapps reads lower down that quarantine-free travel applies to “NHS administered fully-vaccinated adults and children under the age of 18”, but again fails to mention this does not actually apply to all children.
A table at the bottom of the page, titled “quarantine and testing requirements for children” concludes that children between 11 and 17 can skip quarantine and only do a pre-departure test and a day two test, but again fails to mention this is dependent on residency.
A Department of Health spokesperson has given TLE similarly confusing guidance that children under 18 will be exempt from quarantine on returning to England from amber list countries, failing to specify which children.
Testing-wise, the most restrictions are faced by those UK residents between 11-18 years old, who will need to do both a pre-departure test and a day two one. Meanwhile, parents of non-UK residents in the same age group will have to pay for an additional day 8 test, even if they are no longer in the UK on that day, and quarantine for 10 days, or choose to pay for a fourth test on day 5 to enable them to cut quarantine by half.
A Department for Transport spokesperson told TLE yesterday: “I’ve double-checked this with our officials and from today only under 18s who are UK residents will be able to come back from amber list countries without quarantine.
“For all other under 18s, they will need to follow the usual guidelines. So, for British people abroad, for example, their children will need to quarantine along with them as they are not resident in the UK.”
The spokesperson added the government is taking a “phased approach” to changing requirements for vaccinated people from amber list countries “later this summer”. They also said those travellers can “shorten their quarantine period by paying for a private test and being released early if they receive a negative COVID-19 test result.”
Cosi Doerfel Hill, advocate for In Limbo project, said the rules are “just a money-making machine” and said there are political reasons behind the decisions, which contrasts the UK government’s repeated claims that they are following the science.
She told TLE: “The virus doesn’t differentiate between your nationality or your place of residence.
“And what is the point of paying for a day eight test if you are only here for five days, and the fact that you can pay your way out? What difference does the size of your wallet make to the virus? That is just about money.
“The rules have to be thought through, reasonable, pragmatic and not discriminate.”
Child from Italy ‘would find it unfair if he knew the truth’
Dawn Bissell lives outside Rome but came to Walsall to visit her family with her eight-year-old son. She usually comes to the UK to visit them twice a year, but had not seen them since Christmas in 2019 because of the pandemic.
She told TLE travelling to the UK is “very difficult and very expensive”.
Her son was “gagging” during the testing, and was meant to quarantine for 10 days, but Bissell has paid for the day five test despite finding it very expensive, just for her son “to be able to go for a walk”.
She said she did not tell her son about the fact that children resident in the UK do not have to go through the same testing and isolation.
“I haven’t told him about the difference because he would find it very unfair, as far as he knows, everybody is on the same boat. I am trying to do lots of activities with him to keep him happy.”
She thinks the government could make the same standards apply to everyone “if they wanted to”.
Twins visiting widowed grandpa found rules ‘frustrating and traumatic’
Andrea Williams travelled to North Yorkshire with her twins aged six, who are French residents.
She told TLE they have travelled to visit her 88-year-old father, who has been alone since her mum passed away after contracting Covid in October last year. They had to send him to do errands for them, despite the fact that she thinks she has “far more chance of catching it from a UK resident” than of bringing the virus into the UK.
She said her twins have had to quarantine as well as do tests: “The tests were very traumatic for one of my six-year-olds. She cried and screamed.
“My children were frustrated not to be able to go out. When my first twin got her day five result, she ran down the street, squealing and jumping for joy!
“I think the rules are unfair. It doesn’t make sense to me!”
Williams said they did a day five “test to release” because she found it hard to keep the children indoors for any longer and her dad needed to spend some time with them outdoors, but this meant a “very expensive trip” – amounting to £400 for tests for her and the twins. Her partner stayed behind in France because of the costs.