The UK government announced that from 15 February 2021, anyone entering the UK from a country on the “red list” would have to isolate in a quarantine hotel for 10 days. This caused anyone who needs to travel to the UK, whether returning home, for work or any other reason, to panic. Many people tried to rush to get flights to the UK before the policy came into force, due to the high cost of the quarantine hotels and the draconian restrictions enforced on people staying in them.
It seems unlikely that there was anyone more anxious and worried about what this would mean on the ground than separated parents, one of whom lives in the UK and one who lives abroad in a “red list” country, and their children. The current national lockdown restrictions on travel and household mixing do not apply to children of separated parents; their travel and moving between households for shared parenting is allowed. The government has not included a similar exemption to the quarantine hotel restriction, however, for children of separated parents abroad. Is this an oversight from the government, or is there a difference which means there should not be a similar exemption?
Is it right that a child may not be able to see one of their parents potentially for months due to government restrictions? Should the risk of a child bringing a Covid variant from another country be enough to outweigh the risk of harm to the child if they are prevented from spending time with one of their parents for a significant period of time? These are all obviously difficult questions for the government to balance, and they highlight the consequences of measures used by the government to control the spread of the current pandemic.
Yesterday, the BBC reported on the trouble faced by one family which seemed to encapsulate this issue. Reading Antonio and Sami’s case, we cannot help but feel that this policy is putting an unimaginable toll on the child and his family. Children in Scotland are not exempt from having to stay in a quarantine hotel upon arrival, so when 10-year-old Sami arrived from Finland where he lives with his mother to Scotland, where his father lives, he has had to quarantine together with his father, who has not himself left the UK, at a total cost of more than £2,400. Many families would simply not be able to afford the cost, so children from less well-off families are likely to be even more severely impacted by this.
Many parents would have agreed child arrangements before the world knew about the Covid-19 pandemic, and living in two European countries with a flight of only a couple of hours between the two may not have seen too difficult to manage. However, for the last 12 months, and even more so now with the quarantine hotel policy, even a short-haul journey can prove almost impossible to do.
What does this mean for parents wanting to relocate abroad?
Parents who are thinking about relocating abroad with their children in the near future, and potentially having to make an application to the court for permission to do so if the other parent doesn’t agree, need to think carefully about these additional difficulties. Covid-19 and subsequent travel restrictions put in place by governments across the world has undoubtedly changed how easy (or hard) international travel is, at least for the foreseeable future. A key focus of the court when considering whether to grant permission to the parent wanting to relocate is whether they can facilitate the child(ren)’s relationship with the left behind parent, and to what extent the child(ren) will be able to maintain a strong relationship with the left behind parent. Not being able to travel as easily and as frequently undoubtedly has an impact on this factor, which the court must consider.
Perhaps once the vaccine has been rolled out in multiple countries and restrictions start to be eased permanently, then these added hurdles to overcome will reduce again, but for now the parent wishing to relocate needs to think about this and the timing of any application very carefully.