People arriving in the UK who try to conceal the fact they have been in countries on Britain’s list of high-risk destinations face up to 10 years in jail as part of a series of tough new quarantine restrictions announced by health secretary Matt Hancock.
Amid growing concerns among ministers over the threat from new coronavirus mutations, Mr Hancock also announced on Tuesday that all arrivals into the country will need to take two Covid-19 tests on the second and eighth day after arriving – in addition to producing a negative test result within 72 hours before departure.
“We must strengthen our defences,” the health secretary told MPs. “Everyone has a part to play in making our borders safe.”
A minority of travellers to England, coming from 33 countries on a government “red list”, will from Monday have to stay in hotels for a 10-day government-mandated quarantine. The government is in talks with the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland administrations to set up similar schemes, while also liaising with the Irish Government in Dublin, which has a Common Travel Area with the UK.
Mr Hancock announced that the government has now struck deals with 16 hotels to provide 4,600 rooms for the new quarantine system, although this is only a fraction of the estimated 28,000 that are needed over the first month of the scheme. Some hotel operators have been deterred by the government’s refusal to block-book entire venues while only offering to pay for the rooms that are used.
Non-UK residents from the 33 red list countries are already banned from entering Britain. British residents, however, can return home from them if they take part in the supervised hotel quarantine.
Mr Hancock said that these individuals will have to book through an online platform, which goes live on Thursday, and pay £1,750 (€1,990) for hotel, transport and testing.
The health secretary also announced £1,000 fines for any international arrival who fails to take a mandatory test. Likewise there will be a new £5,000 fixed penalty notice, rising to £10,000, for arrivals from high-risk countries who refuse to go to a quarantine designated hotel.
He added: “Anyone who lies on the passenger locator form and tries to conceal that they’ve been in a country on the red list in the 10 days before arrival here, will face a prison sentence of up to 10 years.”
The government’s slow progress in signing up hotel groups for its limited quarantine scheme reflects operators’ unhappiness at the government’s refusal to provide revenue guarantees while expecting them to cancel all future bookings.
Hoteliers said the government was offering to pay only for rooms used for quarantining passengers despite requiring that the hotels be open only to such guests, resulting in a potential loss of revenue.
Venues also face having large numbers of empty rooms because the government plans to contract more hotels than required for the expected number of arrivals in case they underestimate how many people will need accommodation. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021