Legal hurdle delays plan for quarantine hotels

Harriet Line and Neil Lancefield, PA Transport Correspondent

A legal problem is partly behind the Government’s delay in releasing details of how quarantine hotels will work.

The obstacle relates to enforcement of the tougher border measure, a Government source told the PA news agency.

Officials are said to be confident that they will be able to work through the problem, though a well-placed source said it would require laws to be tightened so that it applies to everyone.

When the use of quarantine hotels in response to new coronavirus strains was announced on January 27, Home Secretary Priti Patel said the Government would “set out further details” this week.

But Boris Johnson’s official spokesman told a Westminster briefing on Thursday that Health Secretary Matt Hancock will “set out the operational elements of the policy next week”.

The spokesman added: “We are continuing to work on the operational side and we will set out more detail next week.”

UK nationals and residents returning from “red list” countries will be kept in hotels for 10 days to slow the spread of new coronavirus strains.

Currently they must self-isolate at home.

Hotel chain Best Western’s chief executive Rob Paterson criticised the Government’s delay in releasing further details of how the new rules will work.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that his firm is “yet to understand exactly what the protocols are required of the hotels”.

He said: “I think in any normal company if you went out and announced a programme nationally, and you hadn’t thought about how you were going to plan that, and you hadn’t spoken to the people involved, I’m not sure I’d have a job if I did that in my company.

“To this day we simply haven’t heard anything despite multiple offers.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

“We’ve got all these contacts in other countries that have already rolled this out for some time.

“They could offer some really valuable support and we’re just simply kept in the dark.”

Mr Paterson added that hoteliers “need some assurance” over demand levels, pricing and security measures.

The Health Secretary said he discussed the issue with Australian ministers on Thursday because they already have “quarantine hotels”.

“We have been working to make sure that we get this right,” he told reporters.

The Cabinet minister insisted “there isn’t a delay, what there is is work to make sure that the border is always as secure as it needs to be”.

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”.

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