Words by Grace Curtis
On 9 February the UK Government announced the details of their new travel enforcement plans, that will come into effect on 15 February.
When the program starts, all new arrivals from the 33 “red list” countries – that have reported Covid-19 variants – will have to isolate in a hotel for 10 nights to protect from community transmission. Bookings will open from 11 February and all participants will be charged £1,750 for their stay. Health Secretary Matt Hancock also announced that any passenger who fails to abide by these rules, or who lies about their prior destination on official forms, could face up to 10-years in jail or a £10,000 fine.
According to documents seen by the BBC, hotel guests will be served three meals a day in their rooms and any contracted accommodation will be required to work with government-approved security staff. The security guards will “prevent unauthorised access” and escort guests outside for smoking breaks.
The new rules will affect UK residents and Irish nationals travelling from the 33 countries on the Government’s so-called “red list” – which covers much of South America, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates and Portugal. Travel is already banned from the majority of these countries. However British residents, and long-term visa holders, are exempt from these rules and therefore will have to partake in the mandatory quarantine program if they arrive on or after 15 February.
However, Government scientific advisers have warned that nothing short of quarantining every new arrival or completely closing borders will “get close” to excluding all foreign-borne variants.
The minutes from a meeting of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) on 21 January were recently released, and resolve that the “complete, pre-emptive closure of borders or the mandatory quarantine of all visitors upon arrival in designated facilities, irrespective of testing history, can get close to fully preventing the importation of cases or new variants”.
After criticism from the Labour Party that the hotel plans were taking too long to finalise, on 9 February Mr Hancock announced to the House of Commons that 16 hotels have been contracted for the programme, with 4,600 total rooms secured.
Previously, the shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds had called the implementation of the mandatory quarantine system “too little, too late”. “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-19 strains [..] Yet hotel quarantine will come in to force more than 50 days after the South African strain was discovered”. He further stated, “even when these measures eventually begin, they will not go anywhere near far enough to be effective in preventing further variants”.
A Downing Street spokesperson has said that the delay in organisation occurred because it was “vital” that the government get the program “right from the start”. As part of the planning process, discussions with Australia and New Zealand took place to “share expertise” on the hotel quarantine system.
The news of the hotel quarantine programme has come as a shock to many Sussex students currently living abroad, some of whom were hoping to return to the UK as restrictions ease later into the term. Robyn Cowie, a final year student whose parents recently emigrated to the Netherlands, told Badger how the announcement had impacted her. “The ever-changing policies by the government regarding quarantine hotels…did cause me some anxiety at first”.
For Robyn, “it is the uncertainty of what exactly the protocol will be when I do return, as there have been so many changes already and it is hard to predict what the next supposed policy shall be”. She is also concerned about the potential financial expense of a hotel quarantine. “The ever-changing potential cost implication of returning to university, for any type of face to face teaching, is another stress when trying to work out if it is worth travelling back to the UK”.
Picture Credit: Ben Brooksbank