The government is planning to quarantine arrivals from Covid variant hotspots at airport-based hotels from February 15.
The measures are being introduced in an effort to control the spread of new variants of coronavirus first identified in South Africa and Brazil. Scientists believe the strains to be more contagious and that they may reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.
Further details of the scheme, which was first mooted on January 27 have not yet been announced and no hotel chains have publically confirmed their participation. Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly has blamed the implementation of quarantine not coming into force for another 10 days on needing more “time to prepare.”
Quarantine will affect UK arrivals from “red list” countries
The quarantine period will affect UK residents and Irish nationals travelling from 33 countries on the “red list.” The list includes South America, southern Africa, the United Arab Emirates and Portugal. Non-UK travellers from these locations are currently banned from entering the UK.
The government said it is working to secure rooms at hotels near airports near Heathrow, Gatwick, London City, Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen and is in discussion with more than 60 companies.
According to the BBC, hotels will be required to work with government-approved security staff, who will patrol inside and outside the hotel to “prevent unauthorised access”. Quarantined travellers wanting to smoke outside or get access to fresh air will be escorted by security staff. They will be served three meals a day in their rooms, with hot and cold options.
Cost per traveller could be £80 per night
The BBC quotes a source who said that the government estimate the bill for quarantining each traveller could cost around £80 per night.
James Cleverly told the BBC he did not have details of the number of hotels which had signed up. He said: “The announcement only came out at one minute past midnight this morning so it is unsurprising that no one has formally signed up to this. But the whole point of this is that we give the hotels notice.”
Ministers expect more than 1,000 UK residents a day to return from areas with the new variants of COVID-19.
Cleverly added the government was planning for “capacity greater than the expected numbers of people arriving from those countries.” He added that the government was trying to “limit as much as possible” the number of people arriving from red list countries.”
Quarantining all arrivals from all countries “difficult to implement”
Cleverly told the BBC logistics for quarantining all UK arrivals, including those entering the UK from low-risk countries, would be “difficult to implement.” UK residents are currently banned from travelling abroad unless they “first have a legally permitted reason to leave home” which can include essential travel for work purposes.
To join the scheme, airport hotels will have to agree to the government’s that their premises will be solely used for quarantining travellers. According to The Daily Telegraph, the project will cost the government £55m, which it will try to recoup from travellers. The Telegraph added the government plans to reserve 28,000 hotel rooms by 5pm this evening to accommodate 1,425 passengers a day.
Further details on how passengers will be able book their place in a quarantine hotel are expected to be set out next week.