Some of the first guests to check into the UK’s Covid-19 quarantine hotels have expressed their discontent at the new tough border policy – with the £1,750 cost and a lack of anything to do at the top of a list of early complaints.
UK and Irish nationals and UK residents returning to England from one of the government’s 33 “red list” countries – which covers Portugal, the United Arab Emirates, South America and southern Africa – in the past 10 days must now self-isolate in hotels.
The rule applies to people returning to Scotland from any destination.
One traveller quarantining at the Radisson Blu Edwardian hotel near Heathrow Airport said he was “feeling sad” at the prospect of days of isolating.
Speaking to the PA news agency over the phone, delivery driver Roger Goncalves, 23, who lives in London, said: “I did my test for coronavirus. The test was negative. Why do I need to stay in my room?”
He explained he had tried to fly back from Brazil last week – before the requirement to quarantine in a hotel was in place – but his airline cancelled his flight.
He described the £1,750 cost of staying in the hotels as “crazy”.
Asked how he will spend the time in his room, Goncalves said he would “watch TV, watch Netflix”.
Zari Tadayon, who flew into Britain on Monday from Dubai, will have to spend her 69th birthday alone in a Radisson Blu hotel room.
Tadayon, who hails from Greece but has pre-settled status and her family in Britain, flew to Dubai on January 22 to deal with some legal matters before Britain brought in its hotel quarantine policy.
“It’s disappointing – it’s quite disappointing,” Tadayon told Reuters from the hotel. “I’m not sure if I am allowed out – nobody explained anything to me.”
She will celebrate her birthday on Tuesday alone in her room.
“I can’t even see my children on my birthday,” Tadayon said.
“The cost is quite high - I wasn’t prepared for this forced expense. I could have given it to my children or celebrated my birthday nicely with my family for half of that amount or even a quarter of that amount.”
Tadayon said she had to wait for several hours on entry into the country because of teething problems with the quarantine policy.
“The officers at the immigration were not very sort of up-to-date about what they should be doing – we just waited and waited for a hotel,” she said.
Asked what she would do for 10 days, she said: “I don’t know. I don’t have any books with me as I was not prepared. Maybe watch TV and chat with friends and family online. What else can you do?”
Wagner Araujo, 43, who lives in London, arrived at Heathrow airport on Monday with his wife Elaine, 40, having come from Brazil where they went to visit a sick relative.
Wagner told Sky News: “We are here for four hours and we are crazy already. If you see the room, it’s like a prison with a good bed.
“You’ve got to play cards, read books and sleep for 10 days, that’s it.”
Elaine added: “We thought we were going to come back before all this happened, it’s very stressful.
“We’re very frustrated because the bills will come and we don’t have that money because we’re not working.
“To be honest we don’t know how we’re going to pay for that.”
Wagner said they had flown via Madrid and had to flag up the fact they had started in São Paulo.
Wagner told MailOnline: “As we got off the plane, there was a man standing with a sign saying: ‘Passengers from red list countries.’ We went up to him and told him that we had arrived from Brazil. I found that quite shocking because we could have easily avoided him and not told him where we had been.”
The prime minister said on Monday evening that he expects people staying in quarantine to be able to “cover their costs” when asked what happens if a person has to extend their stay due to a positive test.
In response to a question from a journalist, Johnson said: “It is currently illegal to travel abroad for holidays anyway.
“We would expect people who are coming in from one of these red list countries to be able to cover their costs.”
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds claimed the policy “creates an unacceptable risk to the health of the British people”.
He continued: “The public will not forgive the UK Government for getting this wrong.”
Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who chairs the Commons Home Affairs Committee, said the government is “at risk of undermining its own quarantine policy”.
She went on: “The whole point of these measures is to prevent new variants from spreading – but that won’t happen if there are still too many holes in the system.”
Passengers arriving at airports are being escorted by security personnel to coaches which take them to nearby hotels.
Heathrow raised fears over the weekend about “significant gaps” in the programme, but a spokesman said its implementation “came into effect successfully” with queues at the border “currently less than an hour long”, compared with nearly five hours in recent days.
People required to enter the quarantine hotel programme must enter England or Scotland through a designated airport and have pre-booked a package to stay at one of the government’s managed facilities.
These are Heathrow, Gatwick, London City, Farnborough, Birmingham, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
No international flights are operating to Wales or Northern Ireland.
The government has struck deals with 16 hotels so far, providing 4,963 rooms, with a further 58,000 rooms currently on stand-by, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.
People must quarantine in the hotel room but exceptions allowing them to leave include the need for urgent medical assistance, to exercise or attend the funeral of a close family member.
Passengers arriving in 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.
All travellers arriving in the UK must have evidence of a negative coronavirus test taken within the 72 hours before their departure.
People returning to England who have not visited a “red list” country must quarantine for 10 days at home and complete two mandatory Covid-19 tests on the second and eighth day after arriving.