The UK first introduced hotel quarantine for all arrivals from “high-risk” destinations back in February.
Travellers from red list countries must pay £2,285 for an 11-night/10-day stay – though rates for additional people sharing a room are considerably lower.
For a single traveller the price works out at £207.72 per night.
Heavy penalties apply to anyone who misrepresents where they have visited or who fails to go into hotel quarantine when they should.
These are the key questions and answers.
What are the UK restrictions?
Covid testing is currently mandatory for all overseas arrivals except for those from Ireland. Fully vaccinated travellers arriving from countries on the government’s green or amber lists must complete a PCR test within two days of entering the UK.
Unvaccinated arrivals from amber countries must do a further test on day eight, as well as completing 10 days of self-isolation. Passengers in England have the option to take a further test on day five under the government’s ‘test to release’ scheme, thereby escaping home quarantine early if the result is negative.
The government has imposed mandatory hotel quarantine for arrivals from the countries on its “red list” – currently numbering 60. The aim is to limit the spread of new variants of coronavirus.
Only British and Irish citizens, as well as third-country nationals with residential rights in the UK, can enter the UK from red list destinations.
Which airports and ports are open to red list arrivals?
Anyone required to stay in a quarantine hotel can arrive in England at Heathrow, Gatwick, London City, Bristol or Birmingham airports, or the private aviation airfields at Farnborough in Hampshire and Biggin Hill in London.
Notable omissions from the list include Manchester airport, currently the second-busiest in the UK after Heathrow; the port of Dover; the Eurotunnel terminal in Folkestone; and the Eurostar hub at London St Pancras International.
The government says: “Carriers will not be permitted to carry anyone who has been in a red list country in the previous 10 days to any other port of entry other than those specified.”
Residents and visitors to Wales must arrive at one of the designated English airports and quarantine there before continuing their journey.
Travellers arriving in Northern Ireland are able to arrive at Belfast International and City airports, or any military airfield or port.
How does hotel quarantine work?
Travellers self-identify in advance. Everyone arriving from red list countries must pre-book a room through a dedicated online portal, at a cost of £2,285 per solo traveller.
The price includes transport from the airport to the “government-approved facility” (the hotel), three meals a day, security and testing. During their stay, “quarantinees” will undergo two Covid tests: one on day two, the next on day eight. Those who test positive are likely to have their stay extended, unless hospital treatment is needed.
The cost for additional people in the same room is significantly less than the solo rate. A second adult pays £1,430, and a child aged 5-12 costs an additional £325. Over 12s are counted as adults; under fives are free.
Every arriving traveller must complete a passenger locator form in which they reveal to UK Border Force the countries they have been to in the past 10 days.
Failure to disclose relevant travel history could lead to a prison sentence of 10 years under the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981. The precise offence is “to use an instrument which is ... false, with the intention of inducing somebody to accept it as genuine, and by reason of so accepting it to do or not to do some act”.
UK border officials are inspecting passports for evidence and asking to see boarding passes and travel itineraries.
Passengers obliged to undergo hotel quarantine are escorted through the airport, including a health-screening process, and taken to a nearby hotel.
The hotels are exclusively for the use of quarantining travellers.
How do I book a room for hotel quarantine?
Travellers arriving from red list countries must use a dedicated online portal to book their hotel stays.
What if I can't pay?
“For those facing significant financial hardship as a result of this charge, there will be an opportunity to apply for a deferred repayment plan when booking,” the government says.
“This is only available for individuals who already receive income-related benefits, and you will be required to pay back your debt to the government in 12 monthly instalments.”
Scottish residents who are unable to pay can apply to have their repayment plan paid off by the Scottish government.
Plans to charge appear to contravene Article 40 of the World Health Organisation (WHO) International Health Regulations, which says: “No charge shall be made [for] appropriate isolation or quarantine requirements of travellers.”
Can I get a drink?
Yes, at normal room-service prices. Deliveries of alcohol to the hotel will also be possible.
I’ve had both vaccinations. Can I skip hotel quarantine?
No. Your Covid-19 status is of no relevance as far as the hotel quarantine system is concerned. So whether you have had the jab or have successfully recovered from the virus, you will still need to follow the rules.
Can the red list be expanded?
Yes, countries have been added to and removed from the list at the government’s regular three-weekly travel traffic light updates.
Are there enough hotels to go around?
Currently, yes. The UK government has contracted 4,600 rooms in 16 hotels, with more available if necessary.
Heathrow, the main access point to the UK, is surrounded by hotels, with plenty of capacity due to the continuing reduction in travel.
Can I choose my hotel?
No, and neither are you able to choose your room or upgrade once you get there. Some of them are really quite small, as I found on my one-night stay.
What will I do all day?
Visits to people in quarantine are allowed only if they are providing emergency assistance, personal care, veterinary services (though only guide dogs are allowed) or “certain critical public services”.
Two weeks with few distractions could provide the ideal opportunity to learn a new language.
An opportunity for quarantinees to exercise (or smoke) is not guaranteed. Exercise is possible “only with special permission from hotel staff or security,” travellers are told, and warned: “This is not guaranteed.”
The Australian government advises its quarantine detainees: “Bring physical books or download movies ahead of time in case there are issues with the hotel wifi.”
When might hotel quarantine end?
That is unclear, and the government will not give a date.
A brief history of quarantine
The home secretary previously told parliament: “From January 2020, the government have had a comprehensive strategy for public health measures at the border.”
Early in 2020, the UK imposed quarantine measures aimed at preventing the spread of the virus from known hotspots including China, Iran and northern Italy. On 13 March 2020 these measures ended.
The government said there was no point in continuing to insist on self-isolation because coronavirus was widespread in the UK.
Two days later, Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, imposed two weeks of self-isolation on arrivals from all countries. By the end of March, the law had been strengthened to make “hotel quarantine” mandatory. The measure was announced on 27 March and took effect the next day.
Three months later, on 8 June 2020, the UK government made a U-turn, going from no quarantine to quarantine from everywhere, with 14 days of self-isolation required.
A month after that, the concept of “travel corridors” took effect, allowing journeys from most European countries without self-isolation. But by late July Spain had lost exemption, and in the months following most popular destinations also had quarantine-free status removed.
In December 2020, the time required for quarantine was reduced from 14 to 10 days, and in England “test to release” was brought in – allowing self-isolation to be halved for those who received a negative test result on day five.
On 18 January 2021, all quarantine exemptions were removed.
On 15 February, hotel quarantine was introduced for all arrivals from “high risk” (later classed as “red list”) destinations – along with extended testing requirements.
On 12 August, the costs of hotel quarantine increased significantly, from an initial rate of £1,750 per solo traveller to the current rate of £2,285.
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