Gov. Inslee issues travel restrictions over new COVID-19 strain

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has announced new travel restrictions for people arriving from the United Kingdom and South Africa where a new and seemingly more contagious strain of the coronavirus is circulating.

Inslee said Monday he would issue a proclamation requiring passengers who arrive from the United Kingdom and South Africa to quarantine for 14 days, including passengers who have arrived from those countries in the past few days. It also encourages those people to get tested for the virus.

"Today’s action is a commonsense public health measure and ... is another attempt to keep Washingtonians safe," Inslee said.

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The quarantine measures are precautionary and meant to stem a possible surge in cases that could overwhelm hospitals, he said. The quarantine is mandatory and although it’s legally enforceable, Inslee said no one will be taken into custody over it.

"We have found that when we have put legally binding requirements in the state, we have had incredible levels of compliance," Inslee said.

Dozens of countries have restricted travel from Britain in recent days because of the new strain. Inslee said he wasn’t aware of other states issuing restrictions.

Over the weekend, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed lockdown measures in London and neighboring areas where Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the new strain is "out of control." Experts said the early evidence indicates the strain is not more deadly, and expressed confidence that the vaccines now being given would be effective against it.

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British Airways canceled the only nonstop flight from London to Seattle on Monday, according to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport spokesperson Perry Cooper, but he said the reason behind it wasn’t immediately known.

"No word at this time if future flights are affected," he said in an email.

Overall, international flights have been down dramatically during the pandemic, Cooper said. Virgin Atlantic and Norwegian Air, the only other airlines with nonstop flights to England, previously suspended service, he said.

Sea-Tac airport doesn’t have nonstop flights to Africa although travelers could come from either country through flights that connect in other U.S. cities.

The news of the new strain and travel guidelines are turning some Washingintonian's holiday plans upside down. 

Earlier this month, Chase Hunter said goodbye to his wife Isabella as she left for the UK.

"She took every precaution that was labeled out by our government and their government to get in." After not seeing her family for over a year, they decided it was time to take the plunge and get her a ticket to Nottingham England where she’s from originally.  "We felt that it would be alright. Especially if you took a COVID test and then another one right when you got there."

But not long after she finished quarantining and got her second negative test, news came of the new strain-spreading quickly in the UK.  "If you would’ve told me a month ago oh there's going to be a new strain I’d be like oh great maybe we would’ve have taken the chance."

Though Hunter says his wife’s family has all been quarantining together and not leaving the house, of course the news is still unsettling. "Yea she’s worried, nobody wants to get sick, but her worry is more I don't want to give it to somebody I love."

There’s also some concern about her having to quarantine for a bit longer than expected before she can go back to work, per the new guidelines. "I just hope that her job is as understanding as I am as a husband."

Then there’s just getting home period. The plan has been for her to fly home this weekend and for them to celebrate a late Christmas together. Now they wonder if they’ll even be able to be together for New Years.

"It wouldn't be as fun me opening my gifts for her on zoom showing her what I got her." It’s yet another curveball 2020 has thrown

"I know she's upset and scared that she can't get back but we're still going to try."