No. 10’s plan for airport Covid quarantine revealed - but is it too late?
Government to deploy security guards to enforce mandatory 11-night hotel stays
Ministers are scrambling to reserve 28,000 hotel rooms across the UK by a deadline of 5pm today in order to launch the government’s mandatory Covid quarantine scheme for air passengers by mid-February.
The plan was announced on 21 January but is now set come into force a week later than was originally promised by Boris Johnson - a delay that has triggered widespread anger and criticism.
“There’s enormous pressure on the government because clearly they have screwed up on this,” a senior Conservative MP told Politico’s London Playbook.
Documents seen by The Telegraph show that the government has “asked hotel bosses to be ready to accommodate 1,425 passengers a day by 15 February”.
The scheme is scheduled to run until at least 31 March and will reportedly see passengers from 33 high-risk countries “quarantined in hotel rooms for 11 nights, at a cost of up to £800 per person”.
Sources told the paper that the government will pay the £55m bill ahead of the scheme’s launch and then attempt to claim back the money from quarantined travellers.
According to the tender documents, security guards will be posted to stop people leaving their rooms, and guests will do their own cleaning while receiving three meals a day provided by the hotel.
However, a question mark remains over the issue of liability.
Many hotels “are keen to sign up but must be insured in the event of an outbreak forcing their closure”, says The Times. “Average premiums could be about £10,000 per hotel and the question of who pays is yet to be resolved.”
How much force security can legally use to enforce the quarantine also remains unclear, as do practicalities including who will transport passengers from airports to the hotels, whether guests will be able to open windows, and how rooms will be decontaminated in between stays.
Meanwhile, “the government is still under pressure to extend the quarantine plan to all non-freight arrivals”, says Politico.
However, Tory MP Henry Smith - whose Crawley constituency is home to Gatwick Airport - insists that the current measures are sufficient.
“A big part of the solution to both keeping public health protected and at the same time not completely killing our aviation industry is targeted quarantine and a robust testing regime,” Smith told the news site.