Travelers coming to the UK from countries on the travel ban “red list” will have to be quarantined in a government-approved hotel from February 15, it has been announced.
The Department of Health and Welfare (DHSC) said it was working “at a pace” to put managed quarantine facilities in place in a timely manner for UK nationals returning to the UK from high-risk destinations.
The decision to require travelers to self-isolate in approved accommodations for 10 days to ensure they comply with the rules was originally announced last week after new coronavirus variants appeared in South Africa and Brazil.
However, ministers came under fire for failing to announce when it would be implemented or how it would work.
A DHSC spokesman said they had discussions with representatives from the aviation, maritime, hotel and hospitality industries and would further finalize their plans in the run-up to Feb.15.
“During the pandemic, the government took reasonable steps, based on the advice of scientists, that have resulted in some of the toughest border regimes in the world,” the spokesman said.
“We are now working at a rapid pace to secure the facilities we need to implement managed quarantine for UK nationals returning home from the highest risk countries. We rightly work with representatives of the hospitality, maritime and aviation industries and learn from our friends around the world.
“With new variations, it is important that the government continue to take the necessary steps to protect people and save lives.”
The move follows days of apparent confusion in Whitehall about how the system is being implemented.
When it was first announced on Jan. 27, Home Secretary Priti Patel said more details would be released later this week.
Then Boris Johnson said at a # 10 press conference on Wednesday that Health Secretary Matt Hancock would make an announcement the next day, only to be corrected by Downing Street who said no statement was planned.
For Labor, Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said the government had been far too slow to act.
“It is incomprehensible that these measures will only start on February 15th,” he said.
“We are in a race against time to protect our borders from new strains of Covid. However, hotel quarantine will go into effect more than 50 days after the South African tribe is discovered.
“Even if these measures begin at some point, they will not go far enough to effectively prevent further variants. As always with this government, it is too little, too late. “
Previously, Best Western hotel chain executive Rob Paterson said the industry had been “kept in the dark” by ministers about their plans.
“I think in any normal company, I’m not sure if you announced a program nationally and didn’t think about how you’d plan it, and you didn’t talk to the people involved, I would have a job if I would do it in my company, ”he told BBC Radio 4’s Today program.
“To this day, despite multiple offers, we simply haven’t heard anything.”
The DHSC said it issued a commercial specification for hotels near air and seaports on Thursday evening asking for suggestions on how to help deliver quarantine facilities before formal orders are placed.
Further details will be announced next week on how passengers can book at designated hotels.
The move comes after Mr Hancock had conversations with his counterpart in Australia while officials were asked to speak to their counterparts in New Zealand to draw on their experience of operating similar systems.
The government is also expected to seek advice from the former Deputy Chief of Defense, General Sir Gordon Messenger, on implementing the plan.
Meanwhile, it has been announced that Mr. Hancock will chair a new cabinet subcommittee to oversee efforts to provide mandatory quarantine and increased testing to address the threat of new coronavirus mutations.