Quarantine hotels: Tory MPs slam £10k fine and jail threat for hiding 'red list' visits

9 February 2021, 12:51 | Updated: 10 February 2021, 10:25

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Tory MPs have criticised the government's decision to introduce £10,000 fines and 10-year jail sentences for people hiding the details of a visit to a 'red list' country.

Anyone trying to get around coronavirus travel quarantine restrictions by concealing such visits faces a prison term of up to a decade, Matt Hancock announced on Tuesday.

The Health Secretary set out a significant strengthening of measures at the UK's borders in the Commons, during which he revealed that people who have to stay in quarantine hotels will also be charged £1,750 for their stay.

The restrictions apply to British and Irish residents arriving in England, Mr Hancock said, with the hotel quarantine programme beginning for 'red list' countries on Monday.

But some senior Conservatives have criticised the jail terms. Mark Harper, who leads the Coronavirus Recovery Group of backbenchers, has questioned whether the sentences are appropriate.

Former Supreme Court justice Lord Sumption said the penalties were more severe than those for some violent or sexual offences.

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"Does Mr Hancock really think that non-disclosure of a visit to Portugal is worse than the large number of violent firearms offences or sexual offences involving minors, for which the maximum is seven years?" he wrote in the Daily Telegraph.

Former Conservative attorney general Dominic Grieve said 10-year jail terms were a "mistake" which would never actually be used by the courts.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps defended the policy, saying "strong action" was necessary to prevent new mutations of the virus entering the country and potentially undermining the vaccination programme.

Wales has said it will be adopting the same rules as England, while Scotland announced quarantine hotels would be mandatory for all arrivals from next week.

Scottish Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said the UK government continued to rely on a "targeted, reactive approach" but insisted this was "no longer sufficient".

Mr Hancock said people will face £1,000 fine for failing to take a first mandatory test, rising to £2,000 for not taking a second required test.

People who fail to quarantine in a designated hotel will face a fines of £5,000, rising to £10,000.

He also announced the strict measure of up to 10 years in jail for anyone who tries to alter paperwork or hide a visit to one of the Government's 33 'red list' countries where Covid-19 variants have been identified.

Addressing MPs, Mr Hancock said the measures will be put into law this week.

He added: "I make no apologies for the strength of these measures because we're dealing with one of the strongest threats to our public health that we've faced as a nation."

The Health Secretary said: "People who flout these rules are putting us all at risk.

"Passenger carriers will have a duty in law to make sure that passengers have signed up for these new arrangements before they travel, and will be fined if they don't, and we will be putting in place tough fines for people who don't comply.

"This includes a £1,000 penalty for any international arrival who fails to take a mandatory test, a £2,000 penalty for any international arrival who fails to take the second mandatory test, as well as automatically extending their quarantine period to 14 days, and a £5,000 fixed penalty notice - rising to £10,000 - for arrivals who fail to quarantine in a designated hotel."

The £1,750 quarantine hotel fee includes the hotel, transfer and testing, Mr Hancock said.

Travellers will need to book a room online in advance, with the booking system going live on Thursday.

They will only be allowed to enter the country through a "small number of ports that currently account for the vast majority of passenger arrivals", the Health Secretary added.

He said: "When they arrive, they'll be escorted to a designated hotel which will be closed to guests who aren't quarantining, for 10 days or for longer if they test positive for Covid-19 during their stay.”

Mr Hancock confirmed 16 hotels have been contracted for programme, for an initial 4,600 rooms.

He said: “People will need to remain in their rooms and of course will not be allowed to mix with other guests and there will be visible security in place to ensure compliance alongside necessary support, so even as we protect public health we can look after the people in our care."

Mr Hancock also confirmed a new "enhanced testing" regime for all international travellers, with two tests required during the quarantine process from Monday.

He said: "All passengers are already required to take a pre-departure test and cannot travel to this country if (the test) is positive.

"From Monday, all international arrivals, whether under home quarantine or hotel quarantine, will be required by law to take further PCR tests on day two and day eight of that quarantine.

"Passengers will have to book these tests through our online booking portal before they travel.”

The online portal will go live on Thursday.

"If either of these post-arrival tests comes back positive, they'll have to quarantine for a further 10 days from the date of the test,” Mr Hancock added.