Arrivals to the U.K. from “red list” countries will be forced to quarantine in hotels under tough new measures introduced amid mounting concerns over the spread of new overseas strains of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
The quarantine plan will affect returning U.K. residents and nationals traveling from these countries, who cannot be denied entry, the government said. Non-U.K. travelers are already banned from entering the country, which will remain the same.
The Department of Health and Social Care, or DHSC, said it was working “at pace” to secure approved quarantine facilities in time for U.K. nationals returning to the country from COVID-19 hot spots. “In the face of new variants, it is important that the government continues to take the necessary steps to protect people and save lives,” said a DHSC spokesman.
Discussions had been held with representatives of the aviation, maritime, hotel, and hospitality industries, and will “now continue to finalize plans to enable implementation from 15 February,” the spokesman added.
Shares in hotel group Accor rose 3.24% on Friday, while rival Whitbread was up 2.52%, and InterContinental Hotels Group increased 1.74% in early morning European trading.
Opposition lawmakers criticized the government for not moving quickly enough to introduce the measures, which were originally announced on Jan. 27 after the emergence of new coronavirus variants, such as those identified in South Africa and Brazil.
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Countries including Australia have had a similar quarantine policy in place since March 2020. Discussions with Australia and New Zealand have taken place to share expertise on quarantining, the government said.
On Thursday, the Labour Party’s shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, said on Twitter that the delay in announcing details of the policy was, “putting people at risk and could potentially undermine vaccine progress.”
The continued lack of decisive action from the U.K. Government on #Covid border security is putting lives at risk and could potentially undermine vaccine progress.
The British people – who have made such extraordinary sacrifices throughout this pandemic – deserve better. pic.twitter.com/7RMluroIuX
— Nick Thomas-Symonds MP (@NickTorfaen) February 4, 2021
There are some fears that the mutant strains, which are more infectious than the current, dominant coronavirus strain, could reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.
The U.K. is in the midst of the biggest vaccination program in the history of the National Health Service. More than 10 million people have already received one dose of either the vaccine developed by U.K.-Swedish drug company AstraZeneca with the University of Oxford, or the shot from U.S. drug company Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech
The government said further details will be set out next week on how passengers will be able to book into the designated accommodation facilities.
Foreign office minister James Cleverly defended the hotel quarantine plans, telling Sky News that the government needed time to prepare. “That’s why we’ve given the hotel industry notice to give them time to prepare, train staff and to get their rooms ready,” he said on Sky News on Friday.
He didn’t deny that the government will pick up the tab for all travelers’ hotel quarantine stays. The Daily Telegraph said the project will cost the government £55 million, which the government will later try to recoup from travelers, as it plans to reserve 28,000 hotel rooms by Friday evening to accommodate 1,425 passengers a day.
Some states in Australia, including New South Wales, charge travelers for their quarantine services, which include the cost of accommodation, food, medical support, policing, and security.