Coming home without quarantine. But many questions remain to be answered.

10 July 2020 By Paul Martin

By Paul Martin at London Luton Airport.

On the first day anyone from the European Union (apart from Portugal and Sweden) could travel to England without quarantine [June 10 2020], the Wizzair plane from Milan to this small but usually very busy airport is half empty.

This itself tells a story — that, even without a compulsory 14 days in isolation, it may take quite a long time before people feel ready to travel to the country that was among the worst hit in Europe by Covid-19.

But those of us, British or not, who brave the journey into the (relative) unknown are in for a surprise.

We find our way blocked by border police. They are demanding ‘The Forms’. What forms?

In front of a large screen the incomers look perplexed. They probably assumed (as did we) that coming in to London on the first day of no-quarantine would mean things would be back to the old normal. But clearly they are not.

“All of you have to fill in the form,” declares a rotund border policeman. “You should have done it before you got here,” he admonishes.

It turns out that this is for ‘track and trace’, so the government can know exactly who is going where, for how long, how to be contacted, which seat we sat in on the plane, and so on.

We’re fortunate to run into a very polite border policewoman who tells us we can avoid the crush by finding a form — on our phones.

There’s a bar code on display. A click on the photo section of my wife’s smartphone and the brown header of the form flashes in front of our eyes.

After ten studious minutes and numerous red messages saying we have left out this bit or that, we near completion.

“Do I now have to write up another form?” I enquire, sighing slightly.

“No, sir. Just get your wife to put your name down too, on her form.”

That’s done. But when my date of birth is entered, another snag.

“This date is too far in the past,” snaps the red-letter rejection message.

I try again. Same result.

I tend to agree with the machine that my birth was indeed far too long ago. But should I fib?

Eventually the helpful border policewoman comes to the rescue: “That’s because your wife accidentally ticked a box much earlier saying your companion was, er, under 18.”

Eventually the forms are completed to the computer’s satisfaction – no more red rebukes – and we race along a passport control that is much more sparsely populated than any of our previous essays through Luton airport.

We have made it back into Britain.

As we exit the airport door a large sign warns us to wash our hands regularly, and wear masks,

We notice that on the airport shuttle bus to the train station, very few people are wearing their masks to cover both mouth and nose.

At King’s Cross Thameslink station a man who comes down onto the platform without a mask is asked to go upstairs again, and does. But a young man getting off a train without any mask is simply ignored.

Welcome to the no-quarantine new normal.

Home sweet(ish) home.