Eddie Mair 4pm - 6pm
When does quarantine hotel start in the UK?
4 February 2021, 22:29 | Updated: 9 February 2021, 10:52
Travellers arriving in the UK from countries on the Covid travel ban "red list" will have to quarantine in a Government-approved hotel from February 15, it has been announced.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said it was working "at pace" to roll out managed quarantine facilities in time for British nationals returning to the UK from high-risk destinations - with an approximate hotel quarantine start date of 15 February.
The decision to require travellers to self-isolate for 10 days in approved accommodation to ensure they follow the rules was originally announced last week following the emergence of new coronavirus variants in South Africa and Brazil.
However, ministers have been under fire for failing to announce when it would be implemented or how it would work.
The list of approved quarantine hotels has not yet been announced, with hotels near ports and airports being issued a commercial specification from the DHSC asking how they can support the delivery of quarantine.
Further details will be set out next week on how passengers will be able to book into the designated accommodation facilities, the government said.
The measures build on the Home Secretary’s announcement on 27 January that the government is taking further action for outbound and inbound passengers, after she said there are "still too many people coming in and out of our country each day".
A DHSC spokesperson said: “Throughout the pandemic, the government has put in place proportionate measures, informed by the advice of scientists, and that has led to some of the toughest border regimes in the world. It is currently illegal to go on holiday, and passengers travelling to the UK must provide proof of a negative test before they travel, and self-isolate on arrival.
"With increased police presence at airports and more physical checks at addresses to make sure people are self-isolating, we are taking decisive action.
“We are now working at pace to secure the facilities we need to roll out managed quarantine for British nationals returning home from the most high risk countries, and are rightly engaging with representatives from the hospitality, maritime and aviation industry, and learning from our friends around the world.
"In the face of new variants, it is important that the government continues to take the necessary steps to protect people and save lives.”
The move follows days of apparent confusion within Whitehall over how the scheme would be implemented.
When it first was announced on January 27, Home Secretary Priti Patel said further details would be set out later that week.
Then at a No 10 press conference on Wednesday, Boris Johnson said Health Secretary Matt Hancock would be making an announcement the next day, only to be corrected by Downing Street which said no statement was planned.
For Labour, shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said the Government had been far too slow to act.
"It is beyond comprehension that these measures won't even start until February 15," he said.
"We are in a race against time to protect our borders against new Covid strains. Yet hotel quarantine will come into force more than 50 days after the South African strain was discovered.
"Even when these measures eventually begin, they will not go nowhere near far enough to be effective in preventing further variants. As ever with this Government, it is too little, too late."
The DHSC said a commercial specification was issued on Thursday evening to hotels near air and sea ports asking for proposals on how they can support the delivery of quarantine facilities ahead of formal contracts being awarded.
The move comes after Mr Hancock held discussions with his counterpart in Australia while officials are due to speak to their opposite numbers in New Zealand to draw on their experience of operating similar schemes.
The Government was also said to be taking advice from the former vice chief of the defence staff, General Sir Gordon Messenger, on rolling out the plan.
Meanwhile, it was announced that Mr Hancock will chair a new Cabinet sub-committee to oversee efforts to deliver mandatory quarantine and enhanced testing to help deal with the threat posed by new coronavirus mutations.
It comes after a further 915 people have died within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test in the UK, according to the government's daily figures.
This brings the total number of people to die within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test to 110,250.
Earlier on Thursday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused the Government of being in "chaos and confusion" over the hotels.
Speaking to broadcasters at a vaccine centre at Watford's Asda supermarket, he said: "Surely, before you announce arrangements like this, you'd have done the planning beforehand."
He claimed the UK will be "back to square one" if a strain of the virus which is resistant to existing vaccines is brought into the country.
Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who chairs the Home Affairs Select Committee, said the way existing quarantine rules are enforced means there are "huge gaps in the system".
She expressed disappointing that ministers have not introduced additional testing on arrival as an "added layer of protection".