U.K. to Bring in Hotel Quarantine for Travelers From Feb. 15
(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. will require travelers arriving from coronavirus hot spots to quarantine in hotels starting Feb. 15, almost three weeks after the plan was announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Arrivals from countries on the U.K.’s travel ban list will be required to isolate for 10 days in government-approved accommodation, the Department for Health and Social Care said in a statement late Thursday. Officials are seeking bids from hotels near airports and ports to support the program.
The announcement follows days of confusion over how soon the government would implement a policy it sees as critical to prevent new strains of coronavirus that may be more resistant to vaccines from entering the country. Hotels said they were kept in the dark over the government’s intentions.
“We’ve been working to make sure that we know what we need to ask of the hotels,” Cabinet minister James Cleverly told LBC radio on Friday. “If you’re a hotel and you’re next to a major airport, you’ve got a pretty good idea that you’re the kind of hotel we’re looking for.”
The Telegraph newspaper reported ministers aim to secure 28,000 hotel rooms for the program, a number Cleverly declined to confirm.
Vaccines Hold Key
Johnson is hoping to use the country’s so-far successful vaccination program as a springboard to reopen the economy after a third lockdown which started last month. He has said schools will open from March 8 at the earliest, and has promised to publish a plan for easing the restrictions in the week of Feb. 22.
Keeping out vaccine-resistant strains of Covid-19 is crucial to those plans. The government has put 30 countries, including the whole of South America, a swath of southern Africa and Portugal, on the travel ban list after new variants that emerged in Brazil and South Africa in recent weeks heightened concerns.
Cleverly told the BBC a blanket ban on arrivals from all countries would be an “excessive” move, and that the U.K. will use its genomic program to identify new strains to adapt its list of high-risk countries.
The existing ban doesn’t apply to U.K. citizens returning from those countries, which the quarantine plan is meant to address. Arrivals in the U.K. are already required to show a negative Covid-19 test and isolate for 10 days, but there’s no set location, making enforcement difficult. The government said it is increasing police presence at airports and increasing checks at residences.
‘Race Against Time’
Still, the opposition Labour Party’s home affairs spokesman, Nick Thomas-Symonds, criticized the announcement as “too little, too late.”
“We are in a race against time to protect our borders against new Covid strains, he said. “Yet hotel quarantine will come in to force more than 50 days after the South African strain was discovered.”
Officials have held a series of meetings with more than 60 companies and industry representatives in the aviation, maritime and hospitality industries. Formal contracts will be awarded to hotels, with former Vice Chief of Defence Staff, General Gordon Messenger, advising the government on the delivery of the program, according to the Department of Health.
“The introduction of quarantine hotels for ‘red list countries’ builds on a mountain of existing measures for travel, and we need to see a clear plan for how these will be lifted,” said travel agents’ and tour operators’ association ABTA, which also called for more financial support for the sector.
The Times newspaper reported late Thursday that ministers are also considering a certification system for Britons, to allow them to travel to countries that may require proof of inoculation for coronavirus upon entry.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Thursday he’d spoken with his Australian counterpart to seek advice about how to quarantine travelers in hotels. His officials are also liaising with New Zealand authorities. Both nations have had mandatory quarantine for months.
More than 110,000 people in the U.K. have died from coronavirus, compared to 909 in Australia.
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