Recent days have seen many positive news items about the progressive lifting of COVID restrictions and the return to what we used to regard as normality. This has coincided with my first business trip from Romania back to the UK, after getting my second vaccination in Bucharest at the end of May.
The need for a clear “fit to fly” test result means that all plans must be tentative and that the flight booking must be flexible. Fortunately, I am able to work effectively from home so the ten-day quarantine period, once I arrived back in the UK, posed no particular difficulties for me – but had I been required to isolate in a hotel rather than at home, it would probably have been a different matter. As it was, the permitted escapes from home to take and to post my “Day 2” and “Day 8” results gave me a welcome chance to go out during those ten days’ quarantine.
Emerging from self-isolation with clear tests, I was able to start my programme of meetings in London, albeit masked and observing social distancing. The National Health Service has an app which can be downloaded to a mobile telephone which is used to scan the QR codes found at the entrances to office and public buildings, as well as at restaurants and hotels. This is apparently intended to make it easier to trace a person’s contacts if he or she is found to have COVID. So far, so good.
All went very well for a few days but on switching my mobile back on one Monday lunchtime on emerging from a court hearing, I found that I had been “pinged”. The NHS app apparently also tracks the location of users relative to each other and apparently the system had detected that I had been near someone the day before who had since tested positive for COVID. The alert on the app informed me that I was required to self-isolate immediately for a further ten days. The disruption that this caused can be imagined and I found myself confined to a hotel room, albeit with room service and good Wi-Fi. Unfortunately, the app only told me the day on which I had been near the infected person and not the hour, so it was not possible to identify the circumstances (indoor/outdoor, masked, etc.) and so to assess the risk.
After cancelling my “face-to-face” programme in London I spent a good number of hours on the telephone to the NHS about what to do, and was eventually told that they would consider releasing me from isolation if I got three clear tests, including a PCR test. I was told that I should not use public transport to get to the test centre. Four days later I had taken and reported three clear tests and no symptoms, so I asked whether I could at least check out of the hotel and go home by taxi and train. Thankfully, I was allowed to do.
Whilst my main purpose in travelling from Romania for business in the UK was not frustrated by all of this, the current regulations made the whole exercise much harder, time-consuming and expensive than previously. Having been fully vaccinated in Romania – and having residence rights in Romania – gives me the peace of mind that I should be able to get back to Bucharest without similar levels of difficulty.
Notwithstanding that we have discovered how easy it is to do business remotely the news that in England at least, the requirement to go into quarantine for travellers from Romania who have been fully vaccinated is shortly to be lifted is – or should be - very welcome. The problem, however, is that it appears that only evidence of vaccination in England will be accepted for this purpose, so, if I need to return to the UK from Romania later this summer, I would still be required to go into ten days’ self-isolation on arrival from Romania.
At first sight there appears to be little logic in exempting from quarantine only those travellers who have been vaccinated in a particular country. It however appears that this may be linked to the issue of mutual recognition of vaccination certificates between different countries and there have been press reports that this is being negotiated. Business people need to have the ability to travel without unnecessary restrictions and expense, even if we may travel less than we used to do. The businesses which depend upon people travelling, whether for business or leisure, also need to see a recovery in international travel. This may be the first time that I have written an article in the hope that it will no longer be relevant by the time that it appears in print, but that is exactly what I – and no doubt many others – hope will happen. Please would those negotiating mutual recognition of vaccination certificates please take note?
Neil McGregor, Chairman of the Board of Directors BRCC