From Monday, all travellers returning to the UK from “red list” countries must self-isolate in a government-approved hotel for 10 days.
If you’re thinking “hold on, we’re barely allowed to leave our houses never mind go abroad”, you’re correct – but there are so many exemptions that a reported 20,000 people a day are still coming through the border, including 1,000 from the 33 “red list” countries on the quarantine list. (Everyone else just has to quarantine at home.)
But unions have criticised the government’s “rushed policy” as a “shambles” that could put the safety of their security guard members at risk.
The GMB union’s national officer Nadine Houghton said: “The government has given security companies less than 36 hours’ notice to put staff and plans in place to carry out this policy. It’s a shambles.
“This isn’t just about the safety of workers, it’s about preventing new variants from spreading at a time when we are beginning to turn the tide on the virus.”
On Saturday, Heathrow Airport said “significant gaps” remained in the hotel quarantine plan and that “necessary reassurances” were still pending from the government.
Travellers staying at quarantine hotels will be charged £1,750 for their stay and passengers arriving into England face fines of up to £4,000 if they fail to book a quarantine package. Those who lie on their passenger locator forms face up to 10 years in jail.
The Scottish government have said this approach is “not sufficient” so it is requiring all international travellers arriving into Scotland to stay in a quarantine hotel. No international flights are currently operating to Wales or Northern Ireland.
Here’s what we know about how it will work for those “lucky” enough to be travelling anywhere in the first place.
1. Where and when
The hotels will initially operate between February 15 and March 31 and will be in 10 areas.
The government has struck deals with 16 hotels to provide the quarantine packages, consisting of 4,963 rooms with another 58,000 rooms on standby, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.
If you are required to quarantine in a hotel you can only arrive in England at the following ports of entry, though others may be added in due course:
- Heathrow Airport
- Gatwick Airport
- London City Airport
- Birmingham Airport
- Farnborough Airfield
Those with pre-existing bookings to any other ports of entry must change it to one of the above. Failure to do so could lead to fines of up to £10,000.
Hotel quarantine guests must use the official booking portal to reserve their packages themselves.
Passengers from “red-list” countries will not be segregated from other passengers on planes and in airports, the Times has reported.
No routine protocols have been put into place to separate the up to 1,000 travellers a day coming from high-risk countries, meaning they could potentially spread new strains of Covid-19 before they reach their quarantine hotels.
However, luggage pick-up will be separate for those “high-risk” travellers, the prime minister’s spokesperson told reporters on Monday.
It will be down to guests themselves to make arrangements if they’ve left their cars at the airport before going away – no one wants to be towed while they’re locked down in a hotel.
Guests will be taken by specially organised buses to their accommodation. It has been reported that G4S will run some of the security and transport contracts, but the firm has told HuffPost UK it cannot comment.
“Once they’ve collected their baggage they go straight onto a coach and go to one of the hotels that we have provided and that they have paid for,” the prime minister’s spokesperson said on Monday.
4. Contactless check-in
Upon arrival at the hotel, luggage will have to be sanitised, and a safe check-in system will operate, with guests escorted to their rooms by staff members wearing PPE.
Most international quarantine hotels have keyless or remote check-in facilities to allow guests to travel through booking areas without touching anything - including elevator buttons, which will be operated by PPE-clad staff, but as yet the UK has not issued specific guidance on these procedures.
CCTV cameras and possibly security guards – as is the case in Australia – will monitor whether guests are following the rules. Guests must not leave their rooms and gathering in communal areas is strictly forbidden.
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. All “incidentals” not covered within the pre-paid package are to be settled directly with the hotel. Some may allow takeaways to be delivered, as has been the case in Australia.
During the Australian Open in Melbourne, many players rejected the hotel food and instead relied on UberEats.
Quarantine will be punctuated by testing for the virus on day two and day eight of isolation. You will not be allowed to shorten your quarantine period if you receive a negative result as you may still develop Covid-19. If you receive a positive test on day two, you must quarantine until day twelve. Children under the age of five will not be required to take the tests.
8. Room service and laundry
If guests have not brought sufficient clothing, the hotel will be expected to provide free cleaning for seven small items of laundry per week. Additional laundry services will be available for guests to purchase with payment settled directly with the hotel.
Cleaners may not enter the rooms, so there is no daily room service and it will be up to guests to keep things tidy. They will have fresh towels and sheets delivered at specified times. They must deposit used laundry and rubbish also at certain times. Failure to do this may result in a fine – as is the case in Hong Kong.
9. Fresh air
Some hotels do not permit the windows to be opened – though like Ian Samson you may opt to pay £600 extra to have a window that does. His opened out onto a motorway in Hong Kong.
In the UK, room upgrades are not permitted and particular rooms cannot be requested – meaning you’re at the mercy of the draw.
Government quarantine guidance in England states you may be allowed to leave your room to exercise – but only with special permission from hotel staff or security. It adds: “This is not guaranteed.”
In some countries you are not allowed to leave your quarantine hotel room at all, which means no gym access. This was problematic for tennis players who made the trip to the Australian Open and were frustrated that they were not allowed to train ahead of one of the biggest sporting events in the world.
New Zealand’s Artem Sitak’s room was too small to swing a racket in, so he spent the time playing computer games and reading while in solitary confinement.
Not only did the Russian-born doubles specialist have to quarantine for 14 days in Melbourne, but the 34-year-old was also threatened with a $20,000 fine if he opened his door.
Coco Gauff, who had a slightly larger room, improvised by propping a mattress against the window and hitting tennis balls against it.
Hauliers travelling from Portugal are permitted to travel to England and are exempt from managed quarantine.
As are defence personnel, visiting forces, government contractors and both UK and no-UK officials and contractors with border security duties.
International escorts undertaking extradition work and Crown servants or government contractors do not need to enter into managed quarantine either.