Matt Hancock takes a Trip: the Coronavirus International Travel Regulations


 On 8 June 2020 the Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) (England) Regulations 2020 (‘the Travel Regulations’) came into force. They introduce requirements for passengers to supply information and thereafter to self-isolate when entering England (each UK Home Nation makes its own regulations). The regime is underpinned by enforcement powers, civil penalties, and criminal offences. The enabling power in the Public Health (Control of Diseases) Act 1984 permits regulations to be made in respect of international travel so as to control persons arriving in the UK, require the provision of information,  and permit the imposition of isolation.

In the Travel Regulations there is no provision to dispense with the requirements to provide information and self-isolate on production of a medical certificate certifying a negative Coronavirus test. But there is provision so that favoured classes of passenger are exempt from one or both requirements by virtue of status, regardless of whether or not they present a high risk of spreading infection. In addition, as the Travel Regulations apply to all international journeys into England, there is no suggestion that the Travel Regulations are made to prevent the spread of infection from high risk countries specifically. Nor is there any carve out for low risk countries. Moreover, given the vast number of international journeys into the UK each day, there are, patently, no adequate domestic arrangements to monitor those entering England during their self-isolation period. As regards the requirement to self-isolate, the Travel Regulations depend on a high level of self-discipline among international travellers, backed up by the remote possibility that one might be the subject of a spot-check.  The regulations are made by Matt Hancock MP as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. He must review the need for the requirements imposed at least once every 21 days. The regulations expire at the end of the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which they come into force. How do they work?

Requirement to provide information

There is a requirement to provide information on an electronic passenger locator form. The information sought embraces personal details, journey details, details of where a person intends to self-isolate, emergency contacts details, and so on. Such information must be provided by a person who arrives in England from outside the Common Travel Area (the UK, Channel Islands, Isle of Man, Republic of Ireland),  at the Channel Tunnel Shuttle area in France, and when arriving in England from within the Common Travel Area where a person has been outside that Area at any time in the period beginning with the 14th  day before the date of their arrival in England. Provision is also made to integrate the Travel Regulations with equivalent regulations in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and to impose obligations to provide information in respect of children. An immigration officer is given power to request evidence from a passenger that they have provided passenger information in advance. Passenger locator information must be kept up-to-date by the passenger where details  (such as the address from self-isolation) change.

Certain classes of person are exempt from having to provide information, including diplomats, consular officers, and so on; Crown Servants and government contractors engaged in border or defence work; officials of foreign governments engaged in border security work; and certain persons unavoidably in England temporarily. There is no requirement for such persons to certify that they have been tested for Coronavirus and have tested negative.

Requirement to self-isolate

A person must self-isolate where they arrive in England from outside the Common Travel Area or when arriving in England from within the Common Travel Area  where that person has been outside that Area at any time in the period beginning with the 14th  day before the date of their arrival in England. For those who have had to specify an address for self-isolation on a passenger locator form, it must be at that place. For others it must be at a place where they intend to self-isolate while in England. Where neither option is available, it must be in accommodation ‘facilitated’ by the Secretary of State. Asylum-seekers and refused asylum-seekers must self-isolate in accommodation provided by the Secretary of State, as must those to whom she must provide accommodation as they are on immigration bail.

The address specified on a passenger locator form as the intended place for self-isolating must be the passenger’s home; the home of a friend or family member; or a hotel, a hostel, bed and breakfast accommodation, or some other suitable place (so almost anywhere then). In certain circumstances, where necessary, more than one address may be specified.

On arrival in England, a passenger must travel directly to the place at which they are to self- isolate and must then self-isolate until the end of the 14th day after the day on which they arrive in the Common Travel Area or their departure from England, whichever is earlier.

However, there is a relaxation of the requirement to self-isolate. It is not absolute and in practical terms a person does not have to self-isolate from any of the people they might be expected to see most frequently.  A person is not required to remain in isolation:

  • from any person with whom they were travelling when they arrived in England and who is also self-isolating in the place where they are self-isolating
  • where a person is self-isolating in their home, from any member of their household
  • where a person is self-isolating in the home of a friend or family member, from any member of the household of that friend or family member

In addition, while during the period of their self-isolation a person may not leave, or be outside of, the place where they are self-isolating, there are numerous exceptions:

  • to travel in order to leave England, provided that they do so directly
  • to seek medical assistance, where this is required urgently or on the advice of a registered medical practitioner
  • to fulfil a legal obligation, including attending court or satisfying bail conditions, or to participate in legal proceedings
  • to avoid injury or illness or to escape a risk of harm
  • on compassionate grounds, including to attend a funeral of (1) a member of that person’s household, (2) a close family member, or (3) if no such person is attending, a friend
  • to move to a different place for self-isolation specified in the passenger locator form or equivalent or used in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, or
  • in exceptional circumstances such as (1) to obtain basic necessities such as food and medical supplies for those in the same household (including any pets or animals in the household) where it is not possible to obtain these provisions in any other manner; (2) to access critical public services, including social services and services provided to victims (such as victims of crime); and (3) to move to a different place for self-isolation where it becomes impracticable to remain at the address at which they are self-isolating.

Thus, not only may a person self-isolating see the people with whom they live, that person may also go out shopping if necessary. No restrictions are imposed on the persons with whom the self-isolating person lives. A person who has custody of or who is in charge of a self-isolating child must as far as reasonably practical ensure they comply.

There are numerous exceptions to the requirement go self-isolate for certain classes of persons. For example, diplomats, consular officers, and so on, on certain certified  forms of business are exempt from the requirement. So too are those travelling to the UK to receive pre-arranged healthcare and, also, seasonal agricultural workers living on farms. Moreover, there is a vast list of classes of persons exempt from the requirement to self-isolate on the basis that they are either in England temporarily (certain temporary visitors from Wales or Scotland, visitors in transit, road haulage workers, etc.) or they are engaged in work considered critical (crews, workers engaged in infrastructure, etc.).


 An authorised person (constable or person designated by the Secretary of State) who has reasonable grounds to believe that a person is outside their place of self-isolation may direct their return, remove them there, or remove them to accommodation facilitated by the Secretary of State. Diplomats, consular officers, etc., may not be subjected to compulsion. Where there is compulsion, reasonable force may be used. Provision is made for enforcement as regards children. A power may only be used if the authorised person considers it necessary and proportionate to ensure compliance.

Civil Penalties

 An authorised person (constable, person designated by the Secretary of State, or in relation to passenger information, an immigration officer) may issue a fixed penalty notice to any adult that they have reasonable grounds to believe has committed an offence under the Travel Regulations. Such a notice offers that person the opportunity of discharging any liability to conviction for the offence by payment of a fixed penalty to an officer designated by the Secretary of State. Where a notice is issued, no proceedings may be taken for the offence before the end of the period of 28 days following the date of the notice and the person may not be convicted of the offence if they pay the fixed penalty before the end of that period. Where a person is believed to have breached a self-isolation requirement, an enforcement requirement, or have wilfully obstructed a person carrying out connected functions, the penalty is £1,000. Where a person breaches a passenger information requirement, intentionally or recklessly provides false or misleading passenger information, or has wilfully obstructed a person carrying out connected functions, the penalty is £100 on the first occasion, doubling thereafter on each further occasion until from the sixth occasion onwards it is £3,200.

Criminal Offences

 A person commits an offence who:

  • without reasonable excuse contravenes a to provide passenger information
  • contravenes a requirement to self-isolate, or
  • without reasonable excuse contravenes a requirement in or imposed by way for enforcement

A person who, without reasonable excuse, wilfully obstructs any person carrying out a function under the Travel Regulations commits an offence. Further, a person who intentionally or recklessly provides false or misleading passenger information commits an offence.

All of the offences punishable on summary conviction by a fine. Proceedings for an offence may be brought by the Crown Prosecution Service or any person designated by the Secretary of State. Provision is made to prohibit a person’s passenger information gained being used as self-incriminating evidence in criminal proceedings unrelated to Travel Regulations offences.


 The use and disclosure of information gained is regulated as regards those who hold such information for Travel Regulations purposes.

There are also the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Public Health Information for Passengers Travelling to England) Regulations 2020,  in force from 8 June 2020, that impose requirements on the operators of relevant services (commercial transport services on which passengers travel to England from outside the Common Travel Area on a vessel, aircraft or train) to provide passengers with specified relevant information (relating to Coronavirus, duties, and health guidance) prior to a booking being made, at check-in, and on board. This regime too may be enforced by way of civil penalties and criminal offences.

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