Andrew Castle 7am - 10am
Eustice 'very confident' 20k quarantine hotel rooms will be available by Monday
9 February 2021, 08:32 | Updated: 9 February 2021, 08:49
Environment Secretary George Eustice has told LBC he is "very confident" the UK will have secured 20,000 quarantine hotel rooms on time for next Monday.
Speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari on Tuesday, the secretary of state admitted that no rooms had been secured despite the policy scheduled to come into effect in less than a week.
Last week, the government confirmed quarantine hotels would commence on Monday 15 February - although it was announced two weeks ago - but ministers are yet to sign a single contract with any chain.
Mr Eustice told the station talks are ongoing between procurement officials in the Department of Health (DoH) and some of those leading hotel chains but that he is optimistic they will get over the line in time.
"Those discussions haven't yet concluded so, the short answer is, there aren't hotels yet," the environment secretary said.
"But they are very confident that they will have this provision in place for next Monday when this policy begins."
Nick Ferrari pressed the minister on why zero rooms had been organised with less than a week to go until the policy begins.
"This is a policy that was announced last week and discussions with potential providers started on Thursday and those discussions have been ongoing," Mr Eustice told LBC.
"Throughout this pandemic, we've had to stand up things at quite short order to try to react and respond to this virus. We've set ourselves some quite challenging timelines for everything and this is no exception.
"There's a big exercise on now to procure that hotel capacity.
"Discussions are ongoing but they've not yet concluded but I'm told they are confident they'll have them in place for next week."
The LBC presenter asked again whether the 20,000 necessary rooms would be available in less than a week's time, to which the environment secretary simply replied: "Yes."
British nationals and residents returning from 33 countries on the government's "red list" - where ministers fear Covid variants have spread - will be kept in hotels for 10 days from 15 February.
Currently, those individuals must self-isolate at home.
A commercial specification was issued on Thursday evening to hotels near air and sea ports, but Downing Street said on Monday that no formal contracts have been awarded.
The prime minister's official spokesman said: "Last week the Department of Health issued a commercial specification to hotels near ports and airports.
"This asked for proposals on how they could deliver managed quarantine facilities. No formal contracts have been awarded yet."
Hotel chains have previously criticised the government's delay in releasing further details of how the new rules will work.
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: "It beggars belief that no agreements have been made with hotels, just a few days before the quarantining system is due to begin.
"It will be over 50 days since the South African strain was identified and nearly a year since other countries have been successfully implementing hotel quarantine."
Meanwhile, it has been reported that anyone arriving in the UK from abroad will have to be tested for Covid-19 on the second and eighth day of their quarantine.
It is understood the DoH will announce the latest measures, aimed at stopping Covid variants from being imported into the country, on Tuesday.
According to ITV, Health Secretary Matt Hancock is expected to announce that the newest rules will come into force from 15 February - the same say quarantine hotels come into effect.