Covid-19: Hotel quarantine comes into force in UK

15/02/2021

All British and Irish citizens and UK residents who arrive in England after being in a high-risk Covid country now have to quarantine in hotels.

The "red list" of 33 countries includes Portugal, Brazil and South Africa.

The new regulations, which aim to stop Covid variants entering the country, apply to arrivals who have been in one of those places in the past 10 days.

They will have to pre-book and pay £1,750 to spend 10 days quarantining in government-sanctioned hotels.

That covers the cost of the hotel, transport and testing.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the emergence of new variants meant the government "must go further" with its travel restrictions.

The government says it has struck deals with 16 hotels so far, providing 4,963 rooms for the new quarantine system, with a further 58,000 rooms currently on standby.

More than 16 hotels have struck deals with the government
image captionMore than 16 hotels have struck deals with the government
"The rules coming into force today will bolster the quarantine system and provide another layer of security against new variants at the border," Mr Hancock said.

The health secretary added that the measures were "important to protect our vaccination programme".

On Sunday, the government announced that more than 15 million people in the UK had received their first coronavirus jab, in what the prime minister described as a "significant milestone".

Meanwhile, all travellers arriving into Scotland from abroad by air - rather than just those from the 33 "high risk" countries - now have to go into quarantine hotels.

People travelling from red list countries to Wales and Northern Ireland will be required to book and pay for quarantine in England, as neither destination has any direct international flights.

Any passenger required to stay in a quarantine hotel in England needs to reserve a room online in advance using a government portal.

The additional rate for one extra adult or a child aged over 12 is £650, and for a child aged five to 12 it is £325.

Those who fail to quarantine in such hotels face fines of £5,000 to £10,000, while anyone who lies on their passenger locator form about having been in a country on the red list faces a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

A new testing regime for all travellers arriving in England has also started, with two tests required during the quarantine process.

They will be required to get a test on days two and eight of their 10-day quarantine period, whether they are isolating at home or in a hotel. The tests, conducted by NHS Test and Trace, will cost travellers £210.

Those who do not take the tests could face a £2,000 fine.

On Sunday the government said another 258 people had died in the UK within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, bringing the total to 117,166. There were another 10,972 confirmed cases.

Stuck in Dubai
Among the red list countries is the UAE, where a number of British expats and their families live. One woman told the BBC she had been unable to get back to the UK with her two children after visiting her husband, who is a resident in Dubai.

"The idea was he'd travel back to see us every four to six weeks but this has become impossible and, with hotel quarantine hanging over us, I decided to bring the children to him instead as they were really struggling without him," said the woman, who did not want to be identified.

"After we got here direct flights to the UK from Dubai were cancelled.

"At this point we're taking it a day at a time to see what happens. The children can continue online learning but when the schools go back I have to find a way of getting there.

"This is the thing, so many people think it's easy to just close the borders but in reality people are being cut off from their families for months on end."

Heathrow Airport warned on Sunday that travellers could face suspended flights and long queues at the border.

It said "good progress" had been made on a "number of issues" with the system - but it was concerned about whether Border Force could "cope".

In a statement, it said "queues at the border in recent days of almost five hours are totally unacceptable".

The government said it was working closely with airports and hotels to manage any issues that arose.

Heathrow Airport is one of five in England where people requiring hotel quarantine can enter the UK and is expected to receive the largest number of passengers.

The other four are Gatwick, London City, Birmingham and Farnborough.

On Friday, the Immigration Services Union said its officials had yet to receive guidance on how the system would work.

The union said officials still did not know what levels of checks they should be conducting on travellers.

It also raised concerns about the safety of security halls.

And the GMB union has warned that "rushed" government plans are not thorough enough to make sure workers on the front line in quarantine hotels are protected.

The union said security guards were one of the occupations worst hit by Covid deaths, adding that it wanted to meet employers to develop a strategy to better protect workers.

Last week, Labour's shadow health secretary said the public wanted the government to "go further" on border quarantine measures.

Announcing Scotland's tougher measures, which apply to arrivals from all countries, Scottish Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said the "targeted, reactive approach" of the UK government was "no longer sufficient" to deal with the threat from coronavirus.

And Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said he also wanted to see "a stronger set of defences at our borders" and said the UK government's measures were "the bare minimum of what needs to be done".

What else do I need to know about travel?
Travellers arriving in the UK - whether by boat, train or plane - are already required to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test to be allowed entry.

This test must be taken in the 72 hours before travelling, and anyone arriving without one faces a fine of up to £500, with Border Force officials carrying out spot checks.

They must also provide contact details and their UK address. They can then travel - by public transport if necessary - to the place where they plan to self-isolate.

All travellers - including British nationals - must self-isolate for 10 days when they get to the UK.

The "test to release scheme" - where travellers from non-red list countries can leave home isolation after a negative test on day five - will remain under the new testing rules.

Passengers will be expected to use the gold-standard and more expensive PCR tests.

Lockdown rules mean people must only travel abroad for essential reasons. These are the same as the "reasonable excuses" for domestic travel, including:

Work that cannot be done from home
Medical appointments
Educational reasons
People leaving England will soon have to make a declaration on why they need to travel, which will be checked by carriers prior to departure.