Quarantine hotels: What measures could UK travellers face?

23 January 2021, 12:14 | Updated: 26 January 2021, 11:49

Travellers arriving into the UK could soon be forced to quarantine in hotels on arrival.
Travellers arriving into the UK could soon be forced to quarantine in hotels on arrival. Picture: PA

By Joe Cook

Passengers arriving in England from high-risk coronavirus hotspots look set to be told to quarantine in hotels to limit the spread of new variants.

With all travel corridors closed until at least 15 February, those arriving in the UK from abroad must already quarantine.

However, there are concerns about the percentage of people following the rules, especially with the risk of travellers bringing in new variants of Covid-19.

Boris Johnson is expected to make an announcement to lock down the borders on Tuesday, with travellers from countries including South Africa and Brazil likely to be affected.

So what are the current travel rules? How would the quarantine hotel plan work? Who would pay for the hotel stay? And what food could be served to people in the hotels?

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What are the current UK border rules?

The current UK travel rules have been defended by Prime Minister Boris Johnson as “one of the toughest border regimes in the world”.

New measures came into force in January requiring arrivals into the UK to produce a negative Covid-19 test taken 72 hours before departure.

The UK has also closed its quarantine-free travel from a select number of countries, with all arrivals now required to isolate for 10 days. Those that break the rules can be fined a minimum of £500.

Travellers are permitted to take a private test after five days and if negative, will be released from quarantine.

In addition to these rules, flight bans have been announced on arrivals from South Africa, South America, Portugal and Cape Verde, over concerns about new variants of the virus.

For those trying to leave the UK, current national lockdown rules ban international travel for all but essential reasons.

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How would the quarantine hotel plan work?

Various options for quarantining arrivals are said to be on the table, but Whitehall sources suggested that ministers may opt for a more limited system after aviation leaders warned that introducing tougher border rules would be "catastrophic" for the industry.

Under this plan, passengers arriving in England from high-risk coronavirus hotspots like South Africa, Brazil or Portugal would need to quarantine in hotels rather than an address of their choice.

The new system is designed to ensure people follow self-isolation rules and to limit the spread of new variants.

Currently passengers arriving in the UK are permitted to take public transport home and even stay somewhere else overnight if necessary on the way to their quarantine location. This would likely change if the new measures being discussed are implemented.

Many countries in Asia, as well as New Zealand and Australia have had hotel quarantine measures since March 2020.

In these countries travellers are escorted straight from the airport to a nearby hotel, where they must stay in their room and meals are brought to their room.

In most places with the measures already in place, security guards are deployed to the hotels and heavy fines are given for any travellers breaking the rules.

On Tuesday, Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told LBC "border policy is under review".

"It will be a cabinet decision and any decision will be announced to the public and the industry soon."

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Who would pay for the quarantine hotel stay?

While any plans will still be under review at this stage, it is likely the traveller will be forced to pay for their own hotel stay and food.

It is estimated that it is likely to cost upwards of £1,000 for the 10-day quarantine stay, although this could be reduced if the testing scheme after five days stays in place.

This would likely further decimate the UK travel sector, which has already been hit hard by the pandemic.

What food could be on offer in the hotels?

Little information has been given on what food would be offered, but it is known that meals will be brought to anyone quarantining in their room.

Arrivals must stay in their room the whole time, so three meals will be delivered to their door.

People will also be able to order takeaway food and limited alcohol delivery, but again this must be delivered direct to your hotel room door.

If in-room facilities allow, guests may also prepare their own meals. 

The cost of the meals will also be included in the price of the stay, which is thought to be up to £1,500 for the ten days.

Why would the UK change its rules now?

Concern over travellers potentially bringing in variants of Covid-19 that could be less susceptible to vaccines is the main factor driving the calls for tighter travel controls.

Number 10 is under growing pressure to implement tougher restrictions, with Mayor of London Sadiq Khan telling LBC the UK “shouldn't be embarrassed” of banning travel from countries with dangerous new variants.

Discussing the issue on Speak to Sadiq, he said: “We have had until now, even now, people arriving in our country, getting off a plane, using Tubes to go to home or to a hotel in the centre of London, that doesn’t make any sense to me.”

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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."

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."

In addition, pictures posted on social media over the weekend showed hundreds of people queuing at Heathrow border control with no room to social distance.

Passengers told the Daily Mail there were not enough staff at the border to go through all the new paperwork required to show proof of a negative Covid test. The Home Office denied this.