UK to unveil hotel quarantine plans, public told not to book vacations

File Photo People wearing face masks walk in St Jame's Park amid the coronavirus disease outbreak, in London, Britain January 22, 2021. Photo Courtesy: Reuters

LONDON (Reuters): Britain will announce on Tuesday whether it will bring in mandatory quarantine in hotels for some or all arrivals, the country’s coronavirus vaccination minister said as he warned the public not to book summer vacations.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he was looking at the option of introducing quarantine hotels for those coming to Britain to prevent the risk of “vaccine-busting” new coronavirus variants entering the country.

Nadhim Zahawi, the minister responsible for the rollout of the United Kingdom’s COVID-19 vaccination programme, said details of plans would come later on Tuesday.

“The government is looking at, as the prime minister has confirmed, the hotel quarantine policy, and we’ll make an announcement on this in the appropriate way,” he told BBC TV.

Britain has suffered a sharp rise in the number of infections and deaths in the new year, fuelled partly by a new more highly contagious variant of the virus first identified in southeast England.

There has been concern about the possible impact of other strains discovered in South Africa and Brazil, and whether these variants might impact on the effectiveness of vaccines which are seen as key to Britain’s way out from strict lockdown measures.

The country has the fifth worst death toll in the world from the pandemic, with 98,531 people dying within 28 days of a positive test, and one of the deepest economic contractions on record. Official figures on Tuesday showed the unemployment rate had hit its highest level in nearly five years.

The BBC reported that the new hotel quarantine requirement would mean arrivals from most of Southern Africa and South America, as well as Portugal, would have to isolate in a hotel for 10 days.

It said there had been “no definitive decision yet” on those coming from other parts of the world and this was “still a live issue”. Johnson will chair a meeting with senior ministers on the decision later on Tuesday.

The measures, which would be among the strictest in Europe if introduced, have alarmed the travel industry which is already fighting for survival.

“Let’s hope it’s for as few markets as possible because quite frankly tourism has already been decimated this year and really this is the last thing we need,” Joss Croft, chief executive of UKinbound, which represents Britain’s tourism sector, told the BBC.

Zahawi also said the public should not be booking holidays abroad for this summer agreeing it was “absolutely” too soon to do so.

“I think it’s far too early,” he told Sky News. “There’s still 37,000 people in hospital with COVID at the moment, it’s far too early for us to even speculate about the summer.”

Engine maker Rolls-Royce cut its forecasts for the timing of a recovery on Tuesday due to measures designed to contain the new variants.