International travellers arriving in England will have to quarantine in a hotel in a move by Boris Johnson to combat the spread of Covid-19 variants.
The Financial Times and the Guardian reported ministers are set to give the go-ahead to a plan for arrivals to self-isolate in designated hotels at a meeting of the government’s Covid-O committee on Tuesday.
But it appears up for debate how strict the policy will be. Some reports suggested the system of hotel quarantine could initially be limited to British residents returning from countries including Portugal, South Africa and Brazil, where the more contagious forms of the coronavirus have been found. But some ministers are reportedly pushing for a blanket approach.
They also suggested the ten-day stays are expected to cost upwards of £1,000 for each traveller, and may take “weeks rather than days” to implement. It’s unclear whether a “test to release” policy – which would allow travellers to leave quarantine if they test negative after five days – will be introduced.
Whitehall sources suggested that ministers may opt for a more limited system after aviation leaders warned that introducing tougher border rules would be “catastrophic” for the industry. No 10 declined to comment.
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 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”.
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.
In other developments:
– The European Union has threatened to impose tight controls on the export of coronavirus vaccines made in the bloc, potentially impacting the UK’s supply of Pfizer jabs.
– Official data showed hospital admissions of people with Covid-19 in England have dropped to the lowest daily figure reported since New Year’s Eve.
– But 37,000 people remained in hospital with coronavirus, almost twice the peak in the first wave in April, with more people on ventilators than at any time in the pandemic.
– Coronavirus vaccines were administered in the UK at a rate of 250 a minute in the last week, to total more than 6,573,570 first doses.
A Heathrow spokesman said: “We support measures that will bring the Covid-19 crisis to an end once and for all.
“However, we must be clear that a blanket hotel quarantine is effectively the closure of our borders which carries huge ramifications for Britain and its aviation sector, already on its knees.”
The airport also urged Chancellor Rishi Sunak to “finally deliver on his promise of a comprehensive financial support package for UK aviation”.
He went on: “It is completely unacceptable that an industry worst hit has watched on as others, fortunate to experience a boom in profits and no restrictions, have been afforded unnecessary financial support as we remain ignored.”
Airport and airline trade bodies issued a joint statement insisting that the UK already has “some of the highest levels of restrictions in the world”, claiming that introducing tougher rules would be “catastrophic”.
Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, and Tim Alderslade, who leads Airlines UK, said: “We have fully supported the government to do what is right in the face of this pandemic, but policy should be based on evidence and there must be a roadmap out of these restrictions as soon as it is safe.
“The impact of further measures would be catastrophic.
“They will impact vital freight and PPE (personal protective equipment) supplies and jeopardise tens of thousands of jobs and the many businesses that depend on aviation.
“The government cannot achieve its global Britain aspirations without airlines and airports.”