Quarantine hotels to come into force from February 15

Gavin Cordon, PA Whitehall Editor

Travellers arriving in the UK from countries on the 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.

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.

A DHSC spokesman said they had been in discussions with representatives of the aviation, maritime, hotel and hospitality industries, and were continuing to finalise their plans in the run-up to February 15.

“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,” the spokesman said.

“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 anywhere near far enough to be effective in preventing further variants. As ever with this Government, it is too little, too late.”

Earlier, the Best Western hotel chain’s chief executive Rob Paterson said the industry had been “kept in the dark” by ministers over their plans.

“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,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

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

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.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock during a media briefing in Downing Street
Matt Hancock will chair a new Cabinet sub-committee to oversee efforts to deliver mandatory quarantine and enhanced testing (Chris J Ratcliffe/PA)

Further details are due to be set out next week on how passengers will be able to book into the designated hotels.

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.

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