Hotel Coronavirus Quarantine Plans "In Chaos" As Chains Say They've Still Not Been Consulted
Labour has accused the government of a chaotic approach to its roll out of Covid-19 quarantine hotels as plans are still to be unveiled and hotel chains say they have not been consulted.
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas Symonds told PoliticsHome that it is “unacceptable” that the scheme hasn’t been established yet.
It is speculated that it could be mid-February before hotel quarantine arrangements are in place, despite the policy having been announced nine days ago.
This leaves another 10 days in which British, Irish and those with residency rights in the UK can return from high risk countries with new strains of the virus on the condition they isolate in their own homes, and present a negative test at the border.
Thomas-Symonds, said the fact the hotels haven't been established yet, shows how "chaotic the Government has been in securing our borders against Covid - the system is in disarray."
“It’s now over a year since the virus first arrived in the UK and Ministers are still stumbling from one crisis to another," he continued.
“It is unacceptable that they are not even able to put in place these - far too limited - hotel quarantine measures. Conservative incompetence is putting people at risk.”
PoliticsHome reported yesterday that department for health and social care (DHSC) officials have been in touch with the New Zealand government to ask how they managed their successful Covid-19 isolation hotels, but their conversations started only last week.
Hotel chains around Heathrow airport – Premier Inn and Travelodge – said no-one from the government has contacted them, and the UK chief executive of Best Western hotels, Rob Paterson, said today they had offered to help the government but had not received a response.
There has also been 24 hours of confusion about when more information will be released on the policy, with Boris Johnson saying yesterday afternoon that a plan would be laid out today, which No.10 later claimed was a mistake.
Earlier today, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said details of the plan would be given in the "next few days", the prime minister's official spokesperson then said it would be "next week", and it wasn't clear exactly when the public should expect an announcement on the policy from an interview the health secretary Matt Hancock gave this afternoon.
When asked if it would be 'next week', he said: "Of course, we are working at pace to further strengthen the mearsures at the border but we've already put in full isolation for everybody who arrives, whereever they come from in the world."
The Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said: “The government continues to work on how we will ensure that we introduce this policy successfully. The Home Secretary set out in the [Commons] why we are doing it, specifically to add to the already tough measures we have got in place to stop the reimportation of the virus.
“But as I say, there are operational aspects of the policy that need to be completed and once they are we will set out the details next week.”
Health secretary Matt Hancock is in charge of setting up the hotels. The Home Office is in control of border security and the Cabinet Office will make a judgement on exemptions to the quarantine scheme.
Labour wants a quarantine hotel system to be in place for all people flying into the UK, not just from government identified high risk countries, because of the potential of undetected new virus variants.
Government managed quarantine hotels are thought to be the ultimate belt and braces measure against new Covid strains entering the country as people are taken directly to their accommodation from the airport, are unable to leave the premises for 10 days and regularly tested and are kept completely separate from the public. They are expected to cost the person traveling around £1,500.
Among the countries expected to be on the high risk list is South Africa, because of their virus strain, discovered on December 18. There are currently no direct flights from the country to the UK and it is illegal for Brits to travel abroad for a holiday.
Visitors arriving into the UK who have been in or transited through South Africa in the previous 10 days will not be permitted entry.
However British and Irish citizens, and third country nationals with residence rights in the UK, are still be able to enter via indirect routes from the country.
They must fill in a passenger locator form and self-isolate for 10 days after their arrival, along with their household.
If South Africa is put onto the quarantine hotel list – alongside up to 30 other countries – then Brits, the Irish or those with residency rights, who are returning home would be required to go directly to the quarantine hotel for ten days.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi defended the UK's infection control policies at the border as "robust," and said the health secretary would propose an operational plan "in the next few days".
He told the BBC's Radio 4 Today programme: "If you come to the UK already you have to quarantine for ten days, you have to have a test three days before travel, you have to fill in a passenger locator form, if you don't you'll be turned away from the airlines.
"But we're going to go further with the hotel quarantine."