Covid: Hotels set to be used as forced quarantine sites to ensure self-isolation

Ambulances parked outside the Holiday Inn hotel near Heathrow, which has been reserved for people arriving from abroad to self-isolate. Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Hotels will be used as quarantine facilities for arrivals into Britain under plans set to be approved by Boris Johnson which will ensure travellers complete a self-isolation period before being allowed into the community.

The plans are designed to limit the spread of new coronavirus variants.

The prime minister will discuss the proposals for arrivals to quarantine in designated hotels to ensure they follow self-isolation rules with senior ministers on Tuesday.

Various options are said to be on the table, but Whitehall sources suggested that ministers may opt for a more limited system whereby only arrivals from certain countries would have to quarantine in hotels, after aviation leaders warned that introducing tougher border rules would be “catastrophic” for the industry.

People arriving from some foreign destinations will likely face mandatory quarantine in hotels. Credit: PA

The officials said a less sweeping option would apply only to British residents returning from countries with more contagious strains – such as Brazil, South Africa and Portugal.

But the final decision is set to be made at a meeting of the Covid-O committee on Tuesday.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the government "will not hesitate to take further action" to protect the UK from further strains of the virus, but would not preempt a policy that has not yet been announced.

After being pressed further for confirmation that the policy would be announced, Ms Patel repeated that she is "not going to comment on speculation", adding that MPs will have to "be a little bit more patient and wait for formal details as and when announcements are made".

Ms Patel would not reveal government plans for quarantine hotels. Credit: PA

The prime minister's official spokesman said: "We will continue to keep our measures at the border under review to ensure that we don't reimport cases of the (virus) as we continue to try and drive down case numbers."

The spokesman declined to give details of when the Covid Operations Committee would meet on Tuesday.

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi confirmed to ITV News ministers are considering the move, saying "its right that we review border policy now that we are vaccinating millions of people".

"We have to be really careful in terms of these other variants coming into the country, hence why we're looking at hotel quarantine."

The move comes amid growing concerns different mutant variants may spread more quickly, could possibly be more deadly or could possibly be resistant to the existing vaccines.

South Africa, Brazil and the UK have their own variants which have been cause of concern over the past few weeks.

Australia became one of the first countries to introduce mandatory hotel quarantine in March, while the practice is also observed in China, New Zealand, India, Singapore, the Philippines, Taiwan, Qatar and Thailand.

The Best Western hotel chain said it was waiting for the Government “green light” to provide “safe, cared for Covid isolation for travellers requiring hotel quarantine”.

Andrew Denton, the head of hotels at Best Western GB, said: “We have spent nine months doing the homework and the hard work behind the scenes working with some of the UK’s leading medical people and organisations to put the procedures and policies in place to do this properly and safely, for guests and staff.

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“We are expecting an announcement from the Government. Best Western hotels are ready to step in, help out and contribute to controlling the spread of the virus at this time of national need.”

In a joint statement, the Airport Operators Association and Airlines UK insisted the country already has “some of the highest levels of restrictions in the world” and that introducing tougher rules would be “catastrophic”.

Mr Johnson said on Monday that the “idea of looking at hotels is certainly one thing we’re actively now working on”.

“We have to realise there is at least the theoretical risk of a new variant that is a vaccine-busting variant coming in, we’ve got to be able to keep that under control,” he added.

Watch ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand's video report on what enforced hotel quarantine could look like

Reports have suggested that arrivals would have to cover the price of quarantining in hotels for 10 days, potentially setting them back more than £1,000.

Direct flights to the UK from South Africa, Brazil and Portugal have been suspended, but British residents have been permitted to return through indirect routes and then self-isolate at home.

The Prime Minister also warned that the UK is a “long way” from emerging from the pandemic but signalled ministers would look at easing lockdown measures next month.

He said he wanted England’s schools to reopen “as fast as possible” and that the Government would be “looking at the potential of relaxing some measures” when restrictions are reviewed on February 15.

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