Covid: Quarantine hotel booking site remains down three days before launch of new restrictions

Police are being given extra funds to enforce the tightened arrivals rules. Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Travellers remain unable to book a room at a quarantine hotel just three days before they become mandatory for arrivals from “red list” countries.

People attempting to access the booking website receive a message which states: “We’ll be back soon! Sorry for the inconvenience but we’re performing some maintenance at the moment.”

Difficulties with the website have been reported since it went live on Thursday afternoon.

Home Secretary Priti Patel urged people to “persevere” with the website.

The news comes as an an Australian epidemiologist has warned the current hotel quarantine rules do not go far enough and even plans to let people leave their hotel rooms for fresh air is “very risky”.

Professor Michael Toole, from the Burnet Institute in Melbourne, Victoria, told the BBC that there were cases in his state where an infected guest opened their room door and “with the positive pressure this kind of fog of virus went out into the corridor, travelled down and infected hotel staff”.

He said the precautions such as wearing surgical masks, keeping people in their room and using hand sanitiser – did not prevent airborne transmission.

Asked for his views on people being allowed to leave their rooms in UK quarantine hotels while accompanied by guards, he said: “We’ve learnt that that is a very risky procedure.”

The Department of Health said people will be allowed outside to smoke, though it added it would be up to hotels to decide on exercise rules.

Arrivals from certain countries have to stay in a quarantine hotel for 10 days Credit: PA

The state of Victoria has just entered its third lockdown after 13 cases were discovered which are thought to be linked to a quarantine hotel.

The UK has copied some of Australia's successful quarantine measures for arrivals and stepped up policing at airports to ensure compliance.

From Monday, UK nationals or residents returning from 33 “red list” countries will be required to spend 10 days in a Government-designated hotel.

Downing Street has said it can add extra hotel rooms for quarantine “as required”, after signing contracts for 4,600 rooms so far with 16 hotels.

A No.10 spokesman defended the level of restrictions that will be in place at quarantine hotels, with hotel staff set to decide whether travellers are allowed out of their rooms.

He said: “They are in line with other countries who are taking this approach.

“We require repeat testing, travellers to quarantine inside their room for 10 days and we have strict penalties in places for anyone who fails to comply.”

Passengers arriving into England face fines of up to £10,000 for failing to quarantine, and those who lie on their passenger locator forms face up to 10 years in jail.

Meanwhile, the Government’s quarantine hotel booking website is still down - although it is expected to be functioning later on Friday after a technical issue.

A No 10 spokesman said: “Work is under way to fix a technical issue with the online booking portal and we expect the system to be back up and running today.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Priti Patel announced more police would be deployed to check the reason for passenger journeys and to help “ensure compliance of arrivals from red-list countries who will be part of the mandatory quarantine scheme”.

It comes as she pledged £60 million to police forces in England and Wales to cover the extra costs of enforcing coronavirus pandemic rules.

Forces will be reimbursed for costs they have already incurred as a result of their additional duties and also fund fresh enforcement action planned at airports and ports.

Most of the cash (£58 million) will pay for things like officer overtime and making police stations Covid-secure.

The remaining £2 million will be shared between forces tasked with having an “increased presence and enforcement of regulations at airports and ports, to ensure travellers are complying with the new border health measures” and should cover costs of the extra police activity to the end of March, according to the Home Office.

Ms Patel said: “Our police officers have worked tirelessly to keep the country’s streets safe while enforcing the coronavirus regulations to protect the NHS and save lives.

“The public also have a vital part to play – this includes not travelling unless essential, which is why police will also be stepping up checks at airports.

“We are committed to supporting them as they continue this crucial activity and are providing specific funding for coronavirus costs.”

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