Online only

Travel chaos

Some journalists are more quarantinable than others

THE CHAOS of rule-making by officials in a pandemic... oh, the chaos! The UK's law book is changing from an august tome into one of those blogs that gets constantly retconned: any day we expect to see The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 5) (Wales) (What We Really Meant) (No. 15) Regulations 2021. Doing our regular scan for such new wonders, the Freelance stumbled across a most curious case involving journalists.

At the end of last year, the NUJ secured exemption for newsgatherers from UK quarantine rules. That took effect at 4am on Saturday 5 December 2020. But then the exemption was suspended, with effect from 4am on Monday 18 January 2021. The NUJ was disappointed.

But then again... the Freelance, at least, missed regulations that came into force at 4am on 17 May 2021 and define an international broadcast staff person or journalist covering a "specified competition" as an "international ancillary sportsperson". Then at 4am on 22 June 2021 an amending regulation came into effect, defining a UK journalist covering such events as an "domestic ancillary sportsperson". Both classes of person must (as far as we can tell so far) provide evidence of a negative coronavirus test on arrival in the UK; but the rules for quarantine after arriving from a Category 2 or a Category 3 country are relaxed.

Such journalists must have written evidence from a United Kingdom or English sport national governing body that they are covering, or returning from covering, certain sporting events related to the Olympics or the Commonwealth Games or an event listed explicitly in Schedule 5 of the Regulation.

So if you're a journalist entering the UK to report on the Dominic Cummings Barnard Castle Eyesight Rally you have to go into isolation. If you're covering, for example, the World Snooker Tour - Northern Ireland and English Open Qualifiers, you only have to isolate yourself a bit, generally alongside but not from others involved in the event.

This conclusion is approximate: the amended regulations run over 55,000 extremely dense words and we're pretty sure we've spotted some wrong cross-references between relevant paragraphs.

We note that similar exemptions apply to attendees of a "relevant international event". Such events have included the recent Ministerial Meeting preparing for the climate change conference in Glasgow from 31 October bur not (yet) the conference itself; and we see no explicit mention of journalists covering that (yet). (But see note.)

We await more amending regulations with some trepidation.


Footnote: The word "retcon" has made it into the Oxford English Dictionary:

retcon noun

(in a film, television series, or other fictional work) a piece of new information that imposes a different interpretation on previously described events, typically used to facilitate a dramatic plot shift or account for an inconsistency.

Origin 1980s abbreviation of retroactive continuity.


18 October 2021

Note: The regulations beguilingly entitled The Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2021, made on 29 September 2021, grant immunity from prosecution to representatives of COP member states and observer states and relevant United Nations bodies. We still haven't found anything relating to, for example, journalists covering the event.