Hundreds exploit loopholes in SNP's quarantine hotel policy

Dan Sanderson
·3-min read
Passengers at Edinburgh airport, Scotland, ahead of new quarantine rules in Scotland - Andrew Milligan/PA
Passengers at Edinburgh airport, Scotland, ahead of new quarantine rules in Scotland - Andrew Milligan/PA

Fewer than one in seven people travelling to Scotland from abroad are being forced to quarantine in hotels, as hundreds of people benefit from loopholes in the SNP's controversial system.

Nicola Sturgeon had said she wanted all people arriving in Scotland from outside the British Isles to have to quarantine in hotels, a policy significantly harsher than the UK Government’s approach.

However, new figures show that of the 2,548 people who were travelling to Scotland from outside the UK in the first week the policy was in force, only 346 were quarantined in a hotel.

And despite Scotland’s stricter policy, the majority of those were in English hotels, having flown in to airports south of the border from one of 33 high-risk “red list” countries.

Nicola Sturgeon went further than the rest of the UK - Pool/Getty
Nicola Sturgeon went further than the rest of the UK - Pool/Getty

Under the Scottish system, which requires all direct international arrivals to quarantine in hotels but not those who catch connecting flights from within the UK first, just 110 were in quarantine hotels north of the border on Wednesday morning.

Michael Matheson, the SNP Transport Secretary, had block booked 1,300 hotel rooms in Scotland, to accommodate the travellers caught by the stricter system.

However, the total number available has been scaled back to just 542 - less than half of the original total booked - due to low numbers of arrivals.

“It seems the SNP have brought in a hotel quarantine policy that doesn’t involve quarantining in hotels,” Colin Smyth, Scottish Labour’s transport spokesman, said. “It is becoming clear that the SNP Government’s promise of a comprehensive quarantine programme was yet more empty rhetoric. It’s the hard-pressed taxpayer that’s picking up the bill for the SNPs mismanagement when it comes to preventing the importation of Covid through international travel.

“Every day we discover another flaw as their policy unravels.”

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Details on the number of passengers in quarantine were included in a weekly Public Health Scotland report.

SNP ministers have been lobbying their UK counterparts to agree to identify all Scottish arrivals travelling into England from abroad and force them into hotels there for 10 nights, which costs £1,750 per traveller.

However, the UK Government has so far refused to agree, believing the SNP policy to be disproportionate.

Scottish residents travelling from abroad going to English airports and then going home by road or rail, or those catching connecting flights in the UK or Ireland, can quarantine at home under a significant loophole in the regulations.

Ms Sturgeon has warned that the rules will remain in place for the foreseeable future, and has urged people in Scotland against booking overseas foreign summer holidays.

However, under Boris Jonhson's plan, people in England could be allowed on foreign holidays as soon as late May.

If the rules are eased in England - and the loopholes in Ms Sturgeon’s system remain - it raises the prospect of large numbers of Scots booking overseas holidays from English airports.

Following the announcement of the Prime Minister’s plan, bookings for foreign holidays surged by 500 per cent overnight, Tui, the UK's biggest holiday firm, said.

Firms offering UK-based holidays have also reported record levels of interest, in anticipation of internal travel rules being eased.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “Far more people arrive via England or elsewhere in the UK than arrive directly into Scotland – which is exactly why we continue to press the UK Government to help us stem transmission of the virus by requiring these people to go into managed isolation at the place where they arrive.”