Government Won't Say If There Were Any Covid-19 Cases In Hotel Quarantine As First Guests Complete Isolation
The first people ordered to stay in coronavirus quarantine hotels in the UK will have been released this week, though questions remain over how effective the scheme has been.
The Department for Health and Social Care said it would "not provide a running commentary on the system", set up so that people travelling into the UK from red-list countries can isolate and get tested for coronavirus.
Detail on whether any positive Covid cases were detected in hotel isolation would help indicate whether the quarantine system had been effective in containing any cases of the virus from abroad.
PoliticsHome asked government officials how many of the initial cohort of people were due to leave quarantine after a second negative Covid-19 test around February 25, how many people are due to stay longer than the initial 10 day period in isolation and how many Covid-positive tests have been picked up in the isolation period so far.
None of these questions were answered by the department.
The UK Border Force’s Director General, Paul Lincoln, told MPs at a hearing of the Home Affairs Select Committee this week that there are between 1,100 and 1,200 people in managed quarantine hotels at the moment, and on average 150 people per day going into isolation per day.
This is around one percent of arrivals into the UK, which are currently at around 15,000 a day.
Labour’s shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds said the government's lack of transparency over the operation of the hotel quarantine scheme was "worrying".
“This might be due to the fact that statistics emerged showing that it is just one percent of arrivals to the UK going into hotel quarantine, leaving huge gaps in defences against potential mutant strains of Covid coming into the country,” Thomas-Symonds told PoliticsHome.
A government source said the scheme, which costs travellers £1,750 for 10 days, had gone smoothly so far and they had up to 50,000 extra hotel rooms on standby. There are 16 hotels taking part at the moment.
It is understood that any positive cases will be recorded in the national reporting dashboard and won't be broken down by individual locations.
A government spokesperson said: “Through the introduction of managed quarantine facilities we have strengthened our border regime, providing us with increased protection against COVID-19 variants and helping prevent them spreading on UK soil.
“Some of the latest internal data on arrivals was provided to the Home Affairs Committee, and we will publish an update on data in the coming weeks.”
Some of the first guests to use the system have reported that they’ve experienced a poor service and food and that they are not getting value for money.
Digital marketing executive Renata Costa Pizzo, 40, spoke to PoliticsHome on the ninth day of her stay at the Radisson Blu Edwardian hotel at Heathrow airport after returning from Brazil. She said the food had not been good enough, and that it took until day four for guests to be informed that they were entitled to a 15 minute walk outside.
She said guests were also given a pamphlet that explained they would have cleaning products in their room, but instead were handed a pack of wet wipes only after asking for cleaning supplies.
Asked if she felt the £1,750 cost per person for ten days was justified, she said: “Not at all”.
“We were looking at hotel rates and it was £70 or £80 [per night] for two people and we are paying so much more. And the quality of the meal we are getting is a bit disrespectful. There was a few days when the food was really inedible," she said.
Costa Pizzo said there could be improvements to the hotel stay. "If you don't look at the glass half full, you would have a problem here," she added.
A Radisson Blu Edwardian hotel spokesperson said: “At Radisson Blu Edwardian Heathrow, we take our role in assisting the UK government with its hotel quarantine programme very seriously – to help provide a safe and comfortable experience for travellers.
“We work with the Department for Health and Social Care to provide this service based on the costs set by the government. This fee includes providing three meals, per day, with guests able to request crockery should they wish.
“All staff at our properties have been trained in the Radisson Hotels Safety Protocol which includes mandatory use of PPE along with sanitation and hygiene procedures, as well as regular training for all staff on these procedures.
"Guests are provided with antibacterial wipes from reception and are able to request additional products from the hotel to look after their rooms. Our team is working in partnership with the UK Government-contracted security staff at the property to help keep guests safe and secure.
“We take any feedback from guests on board to help continue to meet the standard of service in our property whilst complying with the requirements set by the DHSC.”