UK Minister Defends Forced ‘Own Expense’ Hotel Quarantine

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Foreign Office minister James Cleverly has defended the government’s plan to quarantine travellers in hotels, which begins on 15 February.

Arrivals from Covid variant hotspots will have to stay in a hotel for 10 nights at their own expense.

Mr Cleverly said he did not know how many hotels had signed up yet.

Labour said the scheme should be extended to all international travellers – not just some countries.

The hotel quarantine requirements are being introduced in an effort to control the spread of new variants of coronavirus first identified in South Africa and Brazil, which scientists believe may be more infectious and may reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.

The rules affect UK residents and Irish nationals travelling from 33 countries on the “red list” – which covers much of South America, southern Africa, the United Arab Emirates and Portugal.

Non-UK travellers from these locations are currently banned from entry anyway, so that is why they are not – at this time – affected by the quarantine plan.

Hotels near airports including Heathrow, Gatwick, London City, Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen are expected to be booked up for quarantine.

The government said it is working “at pace” to secure the rooms it needs and has had discussion with more than 60 companies in the hotel and travel industries.

“In the face of new variants, it is important that the government continues to take the necessary steps to protect people and save lives,” a Department of Health and Social Care statement said.

Quarantined travellers will be served three meals a day in their rooms, with hot and cold options. Tea, coffee, fruit and water will be available.

The hotels would also be required to work with government-approved security staff, according to documents seen by the BBC.

These security guards will patrol inside and outside the hotel to “prevent unauthorised access”. Anyone wanting to smoke outside or get fresh air will also be escorted by security staff.

An industry source said the government estimated quarantine could cost about £80 a night.

“If they are taking rooms for 1,425 [newly-arrived] passengers per night until 31 March, that is a bill of £55m,” the source added.

Hotels ‘waiting to hear’

But many hotels have said they are waiting to hear more details from the government about how it will work.

The chair of the Manchester Hoteliers’ Association, Adrian Ellis, said some hotels “would be interested”.

“We had a meeting yesterday with about 35 members attending. We are waiting to hear – normally it would come from UK Hospitality – the guidelines, but unfortunately nothing has been received as of now,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“We understand what we can read in the media… but as of now we don’t know which hotels are assigned and we don’t know how the rules will work.”

Asked how many hotels had signed up, Foreign Office minister Mr Cleverly said: “I don’t have that detail at my fingertips.”

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, he added: “The announcement only came out at one minute past midnight this morning so it is unsurprising that no one has formally signed up to this. But the whole point of this is that we give the hotels notice.”

Documents suggest ministers expect more than 1,000 UK residents a day to return from places where new variants are prevalent.

“We’re planning for capacity greater than the expected numbers of people arriving from those countries,” said Mr Cleverly. “Ideally, what we are trying to do is limit as much as possible the number of people who are arriving from those countries.”

When asked why the policy did not apply to all UK arrivals, Mr Cleverly told the Today programme the logistics would be “difficult to implement” and would mean imposing hotel quarantine on people arriving from low-risk countries.

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People in the UK are currently banned from travelling abroad unless they “first have a legally permitted reason to leave home”, such as work.

Many hotels in and around airports have lost bookings from holidaying customers who typically book in for a night to be near the airport for early-morning departures. That means they may be more likely to agree to the government’s main requirement that quarantine hotels agree to turn away all other customers and have their premises used solely by quarantining travellers.

Hotelier Mr Ellis, said: “My understanding is if you become a quarantine hotel, you can’t have other business. So those that are already open, for example dealing with business groups or business guests, as per the government guidelines, you can’t then become a quarantine hotel as well.

“So only those ones that are currently closed, and we are guessing near to the airport, will be the ones that are selected.”

‘Brand reputation’

Paul Charles, a travel consultant who is leading a campaign called “Quash Quarantine”, said many hotels are “concerned about the brand reputation being tarnished if they take in guests who could turn out to be positive” and staff are concerned they “may be subject to guests who pass on Covid”.

Government sources said they expect the prospect of paying for secure accommodation could see the numbers of travellers returning from high risk areas swiftly reduce.

Ministers are also likely to increase the fines for people who break the rules.

Details on how passengers will book their place in a quarantine hotel are expected to be set out by the government next week.

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