You probably weren’t thinking of flying in or out of the UK any time soon. In fact, all Brits are currently banned from travelling abroad for ‘non-essential’ reasons, and all travellers are required to test and self-isolate for up to ten days. But now the government has introduced a further deterrent: all travellers coming from ‘high-risk areas’ will now be required to wait out their quarantine period in a hotel – at their own expense.
Priti Patel, the UK’s home secretary, last month told parliament the requirement to self-isolate in a hotel would apply to arrivals from the 33 ‘red list’ countries currently battling more infectious strains of the virus. They include Portugal, much of southern Africa and all of South America.
Leisure travellers from these countries who are not British residents will continue to be turned away at the border, due to ongoing travel bans. But those who do live in the UK – as well as anyone travelling in for ‘essential’ reasons – will now be met at the airport and taken directly to quarantine.
Today the British health secretary, Matt Hancock, confirmed that when the new quarantine system starts next week, those travellers who are able to return from ‘red list’ countries will have to pay £1,750 per head to self-isolate – covering accommodation, transport and testing.
As of Monday (February 15), all arrivals in England, whether they are having to quarantine at home or in a hotel, will also have to take tests on days two and eight after they arrive. These will be available to book via a dedicated website.
If either of the tests come back positive, then the traveller will have to quarantine for a further ten days from that date. Anyone who fails to take either test could be fined up to £2,000, while those who fail to quarantine in a hotel could be fined up to £10,000.
Whereas travel rules have previously diverged in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon said there has been a ‘four nations’ approach to the hotel quarantine system – meaning it will apply across the union.
The restrictions currently in place require all arrivals in the UK to provide a negative test from within 72 hours of arrival. They must then quarantine for ten days, although this can be done at home. In England, travellers can still cut their self-isolation period to five days if they take a second test which comes back negative. From next week, however, they will also have to take separate tests on days two and eight after they arrive, as per the new rules announced today.
There had been speculation that the hotel quarantines would apply to travel from all countries – following the approach taken by Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Thailand since the start of the pandemic. However, British ministers have instead opted for a targeted, country-by-country approach.
Until vaccine rollouts extend across the globe, the emergence of virulent new strains will likely mean many more nations make the UK’s hotel-quarantine ‘red list’ over the coming months. The government has already been criticised for not going far enough, as well as for acting too slowly.
For now, British travellers and those wanting to visit the UK will want to stick to dreaming, planning and looking forward to the day when travel returns.