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What’s the point of hotel quarantine? Matt Hancock won’t say

Exclusive: The government spent three months not answering a crucial question on the ‘red list’ policy – then said time had run out

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Friday 30 April 2021 15:06 BST
Red alert: arrivals area at Heathrow Terminal 5
Red alert: arrivals area at Heathrow Terminal 5 (Simon Calder)

Ministers spent three months failing to answer a Labour MP’s question on the scientific basis for the hotel quarantine policy – and then told him they had run out of time to provide a response.

The prime minister announced the controversial policy for arrivals from “red list” countries – deemed high risk for coronavirus – on 27 January.

On the same day, the former culture secretary, Ben Bradshaw, submitted his question to the health secretary, Matt Hancock.

Mr Bradshaw, MP for Exeter, is a member of the Transport Select Committee and has championed the reopening of international travel.

He asked Mr Hancock: “What scientific evidence he consulted prior to introducing the hotel quarantine policy?”

While hotel quarantine has been used by countries such as Australia since March 2020, it was introduced in the UK only in February 2021. 

Solo travellers arriving from red list nations such as India, South Africa and Brazil must pay £1,750 for 11 nights in self-isolation plus two post-arrival Covid tests. People arriving in the UK from other countries must self-isolate at home.

Some senior figures in aviation and tourism have contended that the government’s travel restrictions in response to the Covid crisis have been based on popularity with the public rather than scientific evidence.

The government declined to answer Mr Bradshaw’s question until 29 April – when a junior minister, Jo Churchill, responded, saying: “It has not proved possible to respond to the hon. member in the time available before prorogation.”

Parliament is not sitting until the Queen’s Speech on 11 May.

The UK Parliament website states that the convention is that an MP can expect a written question to be answered within seven days of the question being tabled.

“However, there is no parliamentary rule that states ordinary written questions have to be answered by a certain date,” it says.

Mr Bradshaw told The Independent: “I’ve stopped being shocked by this government. Three months to fail to answer a simple question, then running down the clock.

“The only conclusion is there was no evidence to support their hotel quarantine policy, as I suspected, rather it was a knee-jerk response based on focus groups and the government’s previous failure to prevent the first and second Covid waves.”

The Independent has asked the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to respond.

At the time the scheme was rolled out, early in February, a DHSC spokesperson said: “Throughout the pandemic, the government has put in place proportionate measures, informed by the advice of scientists, and that has led to some of the toughest border regimes in the world.

“In the face of new variants, it is important that the government continues to take the necessary steps to protect people and save lives.”

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