‘Quarantine hotels’ set to be announced by Home Secretary

26 January 2021, 05:32 | Updated: 27 January 2021, 06:01

Quarantine hotels could be enforced for anyone arriving in the UK
Quarantine hotels could be enforced for anyone arriving in the UK. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

An announcement on mandatory hotel quarantine for travellers from Covid hotspots is expected later today.

Home Secretary Priti Patel will make a statement in parliament about border restrictions later today following meetings between top ministers.

The Prime Minister met with ministers on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the proposal for arrivals into the country to quarantine in designated hotels to help stop the spread of new Covid-19 variants.

A number of options are said to be on the table but Whitehall sources suggest the Government may opt for a more limited system after aviation leaders warned that tougher border rules would be "catastrophic" for the industry.

The officials said a less sweeping option would apply only to British residents returning from countries with more contagious strains - such as Brazil, South Africa and Portugal.

Australia became one of the first countries to introduce mandatory hotel quarantine in March, while the practice is also observed in China, New Zealand, India, Singapore, the Philippines, Taiwan, Qatar and Thailand.

Read more: Hotel quarantine plan to be discussed by ministers - but how would it work?

Read more: Covid-19: Sadiq Khan calls for airport quarantine hotels for people arriving in UK

Travellers wait for their Covid-19 test results at Heathrow Airport
Travellers wait for their Covid-19 test results at Heathrow Airport. Picture: PA

The Prime Minister has already suggested more may have to be done to "protect our borders", saying on Friday: "We don't want to put that (efforts to control the virus) at risk by having a new variant come back in."

Under the tough plans, anyone arriving in the UK will need to isolate in an airport hotel for ten days as soon as they enter the country, regardless of where they have travelled from.

Travellers would face extra costs on top of any trip to spend their quarantine period in a hotel patrolled by security guards.

The aviation industry have warned of the “catastrophic” impact of the potential move, with travellers expected to face costs of more than £1,000.

Asked at a Downing Street news conference if he supported enforced hotel quarantine, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "I think it is incredibly important that we are cautious at the border."

Mr Hancock also highlighted how the government last week closed all UK travel corridors until at least 15 February and stressed that it is currently "illegal", under England's current national lockdown to travel abroad without a reasonable excuse.

He added: "It is important that we protect from new variants should they have vaccine evasion.

"And it is also reasonable to take a precautionary principle to protect this country whilst we work on the science and the analysis of the different variants that are discovered around the world."

The Radisson hotel group said they "await further details from the UK government with regard to the extended hotel quarantine services, and have the necessary protocols and measures in place to support and implement these government policies quickly and safely."

The chain runs hotels near Heathrow, Stansted, Manchester and East Midlands airports.

They said in a statement: "Radisson Hotel Group has always supported and will continue to follow local government recommendations and WHO guidelines to ensure the health and safety of our guests, team members, and partners.

"Radisson Hotel Group is proud to work alongside the WTTC and continue leading a coordinated and integrated approach to resuming travel, working closely with all government and public health authorities.

"We await further details from the UK government with regard to the extended hotel quarantine services, and have the necessary protocols and measures in place to support and implement these government policies quickly and safely."

Boris Johnson spoke about the possibility of quarantine hotels being introduced during a visit to a vaccination centre
Boris Johnson spoke about the possibility of quarantine hotels being introduced during a visit to a vaccination centre. Picture: PA

During a visit to a vaccination site at Barnet Football Club in north London on Monday morning, Boris Johnson said the Government was "definitely looking at" the possibility of travellers arriving in the UK being required to quarantine in hotels.

He said: "We have to realise there is at least the theoretical risk of a new variant that is a vaccine-busting variant coming in, we've got to be able to keep that under control."

Mr Johnson went on: "With this vaccination programme, we've done I think 6.3, 6.4 million people now in the UK as a whole.

"We are on target just, just, we're on target to hit our ambition of vaccinating everybody in those vulnerable groups by the middle of February.

"We want to make sure that we protect our population, protect this country against reinfection from abroad.

"That idea of looking at hotels is certainly one thing we're actively now working on.

"We need a solution that gives us the maximum possible protection against reinfection from abroad."

And also on Monday, Work and Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey told LBC that the plans are under "consideration".

"We continue to step up the different measures about international travel and I'm conscious that, as the Prime Minister has set out, we may need to do even more.

"That policy works continues to be underway and decisions will be made based on the evidence and facts ahead of us.

"I know that the measures are still under active consideration. Not only for stepping them up, but also the criteria that we use for easing restrictions in the future."

It comes after Health Secretary Matt Hancock suggested a "blanket ban" on all arrivals to the UK on Sunday.

He warned that it is "absolutely critical" that Britain is protected from new virus strains.

Mr Hancock, who has been pushing for stricter travel restrictions, revealed yesterday that all 77 cases of the South African coronavirus variant detected in the UK have been linked to travellers. 

He also said that the strains he most worries about are "the ones we have not detected yet".

"We have got to have a precautionary principle," Mr Hancock said. 

"We've introduced pre-departure testing... but it is absolutely vital that we protect this country from a new variant that may not be as well dealt with by the vaccine.

"We cannot risk the progress that we've made."

Over the weekend, pictures circulated on social media, including one from senior diplomat Sir Peter Westmacott, appearing to show queues of people at border patrol with no obvious social distancing on Friday afternoon.

The scenes were described as "incredibly worrying" by the shadow health secretary.

Labour's shadow health secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds called on the Government to "get a grip" of the situation.

He said: "The Conservatives' indecision and incompetence has left holes in our country's defences.

"There's no clear strategy in place and they are lurching from one crisis to another.

"The scenes at airports are incredibly worrying, with no social distancing and clearly risking transmission of yet more strains of this awful virus.

"Ministers need to get a grip to protect our country's health."

A Government spokesperson said: "We are in a national lockdown to protect the NHS and save lives. People should not be travelling unless absolutely necessary. You must have proof of a negative test and a completed passenger locator form before arriving. Border Force have been ramping up enforcement and those not complying could be fined £500.

"It's ultimately up to individual airports to ensure social distancing on site."

A spokesperson for Heathrow pointed out that immigration halls are controlled by Border Force officials - who are helping to implement new rules around negative Covid tests for passengers - and not by airports.

He added: "We've been clear since last May really that social distancing in an airport environment isn't really possible.

"To put that in context, if you had one aircraft of let's say 300 people, you'd need a queue about 1km long to socially distance just one aircraft, which is why last summer we mandated face coverings in the airport."