The government’s hotel quarantine plan to curb the spread of Covid-19 variants entering the UK is to begin on February 15 – almost three weeks after the crackdown was first announced.
When the use of quarantine hotels in response to new coronavirus strains was revealed on January 27, home secretary Priti Patel said further details would be set out later that week.
UK nationals and residents returning from “red list” countries will be kept in hotels for 10 days to slow the spread of new coronavirus strains. Currently they must self-isolate at home.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said it was working “at pace” to roll out managed quarantine facilities in time for British nationals returning to the UK from high-risk destinations.
The decision to require travellers to self-isolate for 10 days in approved accommodation to ensure they follow the rules was originally announced last week following the emergence of new coronavirus variants in South Africa and Brazil.
However, ministers have been under fire for failing to announce when it would be implemented or how it would work.
A DHSC spokesman said they had been in discussions with representatives of the aviation, maritime, hotel and hospitality industries, and were continuing to finalise their plans in the run-up to February 15.
They said: “Throughout the pandemic, the government has put in place proportionate measures, informed by the advice of scientists, and that has led to some of the toughest border regimes in the world.
“We are now working at pace to secure the facilities we need to roll out managed quarantine for British nationals returning home from the most high-risk countries, and are rightly engaging with representatives from the hospitality, maritime and aviation industry, and learning from our friends around the world.
“In the face of new variants, it is important that the government continues to take the necessary steps to protect people and save lives.”
The move follows days of apparent confusion within Whitehall over how the scheme would be implemented.
At a No 10 press conference on Wednesday, Boris Johnson said health secretary Matt Hancock would be making an announcement the next day, only to be corrected by Downing Street which said no statement was planned.
For Labour, shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said the government had been far too slow to act.
“It is beyond comprehension that these measures won’t even start until February 15,” he said.
“We are in a race against time to protect our borders against new Covid strains. Yet hotel quarantine will come into force more than 50 days after the South African strain was discovered.
“Even when these measures eventually begin, they will not go nowhere near far enough to be effective in preventing further variants. As ever with this Government, it is too little, too late.”
Earlier, the Best Western hotel chain’s chief executive Rob Paterson said the industry had been “kept in the dark” by ministers over their plans.
“I think in any normal company, if you went out and announced a programme nationally, and you hadn’t thought about how you were going to plan that, and you hadn’t spoken to the people involved, I’m not sure I’d have a job if I did that in my company,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“To this day we simply haven’t heard anything despite multiple offers.”