Hotel quarantines: How will it work and what are the rules?

Barney Davis
·5-min read
<p>A plane passes over the  Travelodge Hotel at Heathrow. </p> (PA)

A plane passes over the Travelodge Hotel at Heathrow.

(PA)

The Government has revealed the outcome of ministerial discussions over imposing stricter border measures to protect the country against the spread of new coronavirus variants.

Boris Johnson told MPs on Wednesday that UK nationals and residents returning from "red list" countries will be placed in quarantine in Government-provided accommodation such as hotels for 10 days.

Quarantine will apply to Brits travelling from any of 22 countries, including Portugal, Brazil and South Africa. Further details of the plan are set to be announced.

Here is how the policy is likely to work:

What are the new rules likely to be?

Various quarantine options are understood to have been on the table when the Government’s Covid-O Committee met on Tuesday.

Whitehall sources suggested that ministers may opt for a more limited system for England, that could target passengers arriving from high-risk coronavirus hotspots.

Arrivals from most of southern Africa and South America, as well as Portugal – due to many flights from Brazil coming via its capital Lisbon, will be required to isolate in a hotel for 10 days.

Why are further border measures being discussed?

Hotel quarantine has been proposed as a way to ensure people follow self-isolation rules relating to international travel, and protect against the arrival of new variants of coronavirus entering the country.

Amid significant pressure on the NHS, there are concerns about the risks posed by strains identified in South Africa and Brazil.

What are the current rules for arrivals to the UK?

Direct flights to the UK from South Africa, Brazil and Portugal have already been suspended, but British residents have been permitted to return through indirect routes and then self-isolate at home.

More widely, anyone entering the country from abroad, including UK nationals returning home, must provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test result taken up to three days before departure.

Travellers must also self-isolate for 10 days upon arrival even if they tested negative.

It was later revealed that Brits could be allowed out up to three days early under a new test-and-release scheme.

An exemption from self-isolation applies for people heading to England from Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man.

In England, travellers may be able to end self-isolation early if they pay for a private coronavirus test.

Where will people be quarantined?

Travellers are expected to be placed in hotel accommodation, but details on which companies and which locations that could be used are not known.

The Best Western Great Britain hotel chain said it was waiting for a Government “green light” to provide “safe, cared for Covid isolation for travellers requiring hotel quarantine”.

Head of hotels Andrew Denton said it was ready to “step in” and help, with the company having spent nine months preparing to put in place safe policies and procedures for staff and guests.

Will travellers have to pay for their quarantine accommodation?

Yes it appears so.

Reports suggest arrivals in England would have to cover the price of quarantining in hotels for 10 days, potentially costing them more than £1,000.

But latest reports indicate travellers will be placed in budget hotels for a flat fee, expected to be around £600 covering food and accommodation.

Alarmingly, for those fearing 10 days of boredom in non-luxurious rooms without the freedom to interact with fellow guests, the Home Office has not yet decided whether Netflix and other entertainments will be part of the contract. Passengers cannot choose a different hotel.

Bargain: You can’t argue with Ibis pricing near Heathrow (You won’t be able to)PA
Bargain: You can’t argue with Ibis pricing near Heathrow (You won’t be able to)PA

When could hotel quarantine start?

This will depend on how quickly the logistics of potentially accommodating thousands of arrivals can be handled.

Reports suggest, with many hotels closed due to low traveller numbers, it could take up to three weeks to implement the policy.

Rob Paterson, chief executive of Best Western Great Britain, said it could mobilise “within 24 to 48 hours” for a currently open hotel, and a “bit longer” for a closed one.

How long would new quarantine rules be in place for?

This is as yet unknown.

Conservative former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said measures should be about “buying us enough time”, adding: “We don’t know which countries these variants are arising in.”

He said the country needed to be “cautious” as the coronavirus vaccines are rolled out, but that he hoped further measures would only be for a “temporary period”.

Will similar rules apply for the rest of the UK?

Ministers in Northern Ireland were expected to discuss the issue of quarantine at a Stormont Executive meeting on Tuesday.

In Scotland, Deputy First Minister John Swinney said the Scottish Government would “go at least as far” as England in enhancing quarantine measures.

There is currently no direct route into Wales for international travellers, but a Welsh Government spokesman said they expected to discuss the plans with the UK Government in more detail.

What has the aviation industry said?

Aviation industry leaders have warned of a “catastrophic” impact from stricter border measures, arguing that they could jeopardise “tens of thousands” of jobs and businesses that depend on aviation.

An airplane passes over a Sofitel hotel as it takes off from a runway at Heathrow AirportGetty Images
An airplane passes over a Sofitel hotel as it takes off from a runway at Heathrow AirportGetty Images

Have other countries used hotel quarantines?

Yes. Australia became one of the first countries to introduce mandatory hotel quarantine in March, while the practice was also introduced in China, New Zealand, India, Singapore, the Philippines, Taiwan, Qatar and Thailand.

Writing on the Institute for Government website last week, Sarah Nickson, a senior researcher, said Australia’s two-week hotel quarantine rule for arrivals and border closure to non-citizens had “undoubtedly helped limit its case numbers and deaths”, with it seeing around 900 deaths attributed to Covid-19 with 28,000 confirmed cases.

New Zealand has also been hailed for its tough response at its border during the coronavirus pandemic, with it recording only 25 Covid-19 related deaths among 2,290 cases.

Additional reporting by PA