Vaccine Minister Claims Border Policy Is "Robust" Despite Failing To Put In Place Hotel Quarantine Plans
Nadhim Zahawi has insisted the government's border plans are "robust"
The vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi has claimed the government's border policy is "robust" despite further delays to the start of the hotel quarantine policy.
Zahawi has defended the delayed start to the plan to force people to quarantine in hotels after arriving in the UK from 30 'red list' countries, saying the policy was "not a silver bullet" for halting the spread of infections.
It is over three weeks since ministers first discussed the plans, which have been implemented in Australia and New Zealand since last year.
But despite pledges from the Prime Minister that the plan would be put into place by the end of this week, the vaccine minister told the BBC's Today programme that it would still be a "couple of days" before the policy was made operational.
Zahawi defended the "robust" border plans, saying the hotel policy was part of a "much bigger plan".
"If you come to the UK you have to quarantine already for 10 days, you have to have a test three days before travel, you have to fill in a passenger locator form and if you don't you will be turned away from the airlines. We already have a robust border policy," he said.
"When you arrive you have to quarantine, even without the hotel quarantine operation yet in place. The border policy, I think, with the passenger locator forms now in place and greater enforcement now than ever before is robust. But we are going to go further with the hotel quarantine and Matt Hancock will be setting it out in the next few days."
The delay comes after over 100 cases of the South African variant were detected in the UK, with 11 people testing positive despite not recently travelling, raising fears the mutated strain is already spreading among communities.
On Wednesday PoliticsHome revealed that officials from the Department of Health and Social Care have been in contact with New Zealand authorities to ask for further details about how they are operating the system in the country.
New Zealand has made all visitors to the country quarantine for two weeks since April 2020 and contracted hotels in around five cities to run the scheme.
But there are fears that the policy could be delayed after Paul Charles, chief executive of travel firm The PC Agency, claimed that the plans would not come into force until 15 February.Pressed on the date, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister said on Wednesday: "Work is ongoing on this and we'll be setting out more detail with regard to hotels and the processes around them soon.
"It remains the case that logistical and operational aspects of that work is under way, and has been under way for some time."
They added: "We need to work closely with hotels and ensure there are correct processes and logistical processes around the policy.
"That work continues and we'll set out details soon."
Meanwhile, Mr Zahawi said police numbers had already been boosted at all ports of entry, and that more than 40,000 fines had already been issued to people failing to comply with the stay-at-home rules.
"It is one part of a much greater border policy," he added.
"People at every port and airport will have already seen a much larger police presence, they are fining those who are in breach of the stay-at-home regulations, people can't travel unless there are very specific exemptions and they must have a very clear and declared reason why they are travelling.
"It is a much broader and robust border policy and the hotel quarantine is one part of that. It is not a silver bullet."
He added: "The police have issued more than 40,000 fines and I make absolutely no apology for that because I think it is the right thing to do to have a robust system of compliance and the fines work."