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A Home Office Minister Defended Allowing Quarantining Travellers Out Of Their Hotel Rooms

Australia has had a hotel quarantine system in place since early last year (PA)

3 min read

Victoria Atkins said it was “reasonable” to allow arriving travellers to leave their hotel rooms while quarantining despite an Australian scientist describing it as “very risky”.

The Home Office minister was responding to criticism that the UK’s quarantine hotel rules were less strict than those in Australia, which has been operating such a system since early last year.

From Monday, international arrivals to the UK will be required to book a room in one of the hotels made available for quarantine at an initial cost of £1,750 each.

Atkins insisted that allowing travellers outside quarantine hotel rooms for a “gulp of fresh air” during their stay was “reasonable”.

“The hotel will of course be adhering to all of the very strict measures that we have in place in relation to social distancing and face masks and so on,” she told the BBC’s Today programme. 

“But I think allowing someone a gulp of fresh air during a 10-day visit in a hotel, with all the very strict measures that we have, I think is reasonable – but of course we will keep these measures under review.”

Last night the BBC reported that government guidance for hotels operating a quarantine stated that staff can "accompany any of the arrived individuals to access outside space should they need to smoke or get fresh air".

The leaked guidance is reported to only advise surgical marks for staff and does not prescribe regular testing.

Guidance published for members of the public states quarantining individuals may be able to leave their hotel rooms for exercise, "but only with special permission from hotel staff or security".

In Australia, which has run a hotel quarantine scheme since last year, staff are offered daily testing and required to wear N95 masks which offer a higher degree of protection.

Victoria Atkins 

Scientists, however, have expressed concern that airborne droplets could still spread the virus in the hotel even if precautions such as PPE and social distancing were observed.

Also speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Professor Michael Toole, from the Burnet Institute in Melbourne, Victoria warned that staff escorting guests outside was a “very risky procedure”. 

His warnings come as the Australian state of Victoria enters a five-day lockdown following a coronavirus outbreak linked to its hotel quarantine system.

The epidemiologist added there had been cases in Melbourne where guests in hotels had opened their door and  “with the positive pressure this kind of fog of virus went out into the corridor, travelled down and infected hotel staff”.

Asked about Professor Toole’s assessment, Atkins added: "We keep all of these measures across the pandemic under review, of course we do.

"You'll forgive me, I haven't heard all of the interview with the epidemiologist but I certainly don't claim to be more expert than him.

"In terms of the policy development, of course we will keep this under review but we are confident that the measures that we have in place ready to go on Monday are strong and they will help to protect our country."

The government has also come under fire over its booking system for the quarantine hotels, after the website crashed shortly after it was launched on Thursday afternoon.

Labour said the glitch was “extremely worrying”, adding the system was “showing signs of failing from the outset”.

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