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Red list laundrette: how to avoid hotel quarantine legally and responsibly

Paying thousands of pounds to stay in a room for 11 nights is not the only option – you can clean your travel history

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Tuesday 10 August 2021 07:12 BST
Aerial view of Bahia Principe beach in Tulum, Mexico
Aerial view of Bahia Principe beach in Tulum, Mexico (AFP/Getty)

Mexico is the latest big country to join the UK government’s “red list”. Arrivals from Turkey, Egypt, all of South America and many African and south Asian nations must pay in advance for 11 nights in a hotel room with three meals a day provided, as well as PCR tests on days two and eight.

While most arrivals from the red list experience professional standards of care, there have been reports of women being harassed by security guards in quarantine hotels.

With only very limited access to exercise – typically being allowed to walk around the car park for 20 minutes – hotel quarantine is often found to be an onerous, not to mention expensive, experience.

Fortunately it is easy, legal and responsible to avoid hotel quarantine by spending 10 full days away from the red-list location, “laundering” your status.

This is how it works.

What does the law say?

If you have been in a country or territory on the red list in the 10 days before you arrive in the UK, regardless of your vaccination status, you must go into a “Managed Quarantine Facility” on arrival. It should be booked in advance.

For a couple, the total cost is currently £2,400. But that will rise by 55 per cent on 12 August to £3,715 – “to better reflect the increased costs involved with providing their quarantine, including transport to the hotel, security, provision of welfare services and the two PCR tests,” according to the government.

What is the alternative?

Very simply: clean your travel history, by diverting to a location on the amber or green list and spending 10 full days there.

From a green-list nation, arrivals need not self-isolate at all, though a test before travel to the UK and a PCR test when you get here are still mandatory.

If you have been fully vaccinated by the NHS, or in a European Union country or the US, you need not quarantine from an amber-list location.

Surely there are catches?

Yes – the first one being, “Will the third country let me in?” With rules changing frequently and unpredictably, you should always check direct with a consulate of the country you propose to use as your quarantine laundrette.

For example, the obvious choice for laundering red-list status from Turkey is neighbouring Bulgaria. While the UK is on Bulgaria’s own red list, Turkey is amber – meaning that fully vaccinated travellers are admitted on production of an EU digital Covid certificate “or a similar document containing the same data as the EU digital Covid certificate,” according to the health authorities in the capital, Sofia.

It may be that NHS proof of vaccination is acceptable, but that should be double-checked with a Bulgarian consulate in Turkey before attempting to travel.

Greece is an alternative, with fully vaccinated passengers allowed in from Turkey on presentation of proof of jabs (or of recovery) without the need to quarantine; again, check the latest rules before you set off, which in the case of Greece – and many other countries – include a requirement to fill out an online form before departure.

The trouble is: Greece is on the UK’s amber list, which means that unvaccinated travellers will need to self-isolate (though not in a hotel) for 10 days after touchdown.

What are the green list options?

Europe has looked a lot greener from a UK quarantine perspective since Sunday 8 August, when Austria, Germany, Latvia, Norway, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia joined Malta and Iceland on the green list. (Croatia and Madeira are the other European alternatives, but are on the “green watchlist” meaning they could be moved at short notice to the amber list.)

Ireland has always had “super green” status, with no quarantine or testing required for onward travel to the UK.

Of these, Malta looks particularly tempting as a third country from Turkey – as well as other red list locations such as Cuba, Georgia and Panama. NHS coronavirus vaccination certificates, either digital or on paper, are acceptable.

Are there direct flights?

Between Istanbul and Malta there are a couple of daily flights, taking a comfortable 2 hours and 20 minutes on Turkish Airlines. From Cuba, Georgia and Panama there are nil, but that is not a problem – so long as you follow the applicable rules for transit at intervening airports.

From Tbilisi in Georgia to Malta, for example, you could change planes in Istanbul, Munich or Amsterdam. Check with the airline that you will be allowed to transit. For example, because Malta is a Schengen area member, if changing planes in Amsterdam or Munich you would need to enter Schengen in the Netherlands or Germany. Even though it is a common frontier zone, each country has its own specific requirements.

Note that you can happily change planes at London Heathrow or other UK airport from a red-list location if you stay “airside”. You will not be escorted off to a quarantine hotel if you have an onward booking to outside the UK. But you must still complete a UK passenger locator form, indicating that you will be in immediate transit

What about Africa and Latin America?

Qatar and the UAE, now on the amber list, are good locations for laundering African red-list status.

From Latin America, Spain and Portugal are the obvious choices – with frequent flights, particularly to Madrid, across the Atlantic.

Another option from Latin America (though not Brazil) is the US.

Aren’t British visitors banned from the US?

No, the test is having been physically present in the UK (or the European Union, or Brazil and a few other places) within the previous two weeks. Indeed if your destination is the US, you could try the “Mexican two-step”.

It works like this. Go to Mexico (this would be against Foreign Office advice) and spend two weeks there. That launders your UK status. Then go to the US for at least 10 days. That launders your Mexican status. A fully vaccinated traveller will be able to return to the UK without quarantine.

Do I have to spend the full 10 days in the third country?

You must be outside the red list country for 10 days, but you could move on to a fourth nation, again respecting all the relevant rules, as long as it is not red. For example, from Greece you could travel to Italy, France, etc.

Aren’t you encouraging people to behave immorally?

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, The Independent has explained the rules and urged all travellers to comply with them.

Each country has its own assessment of the risks presented by arrivals from every other nation, and of the individual passenger depending on their vaccination status. You should follow the regulations scrupulously.

Returning to the UK is hardly a hurdle-free experience, with rigorous testing rules: travellers must test negative before boarding a train, boat or plane, and pre-book a PCR test to be taken on the day of arrival or one of the two following days.

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