A further tightening of international travel restrictions appears inevitable after home secretary Priti Patel warned that it was “far too early” to consider booking summer holidays.
A number of tougher travel curbs are reported to be under consideration by government going as far as a blanket ban as ministers debate options to fight the spread of infectious new Covid strains.
One suggestion is the use of hotels to quarantine arrivals, with negotiations said to be taking place with Holiday Inn owner InterContinental Hotel Group and Marriott.
More extreme measures are understood to include tagging travellers or using GPS tracking to ensure they comply with self-isolation rules.
The existing test and release system, where arrivals can leave quarantine if they test negative on the fifth day, could also be suspended to ensure ten days of quarantine.
Boris Johnson closed 63 travel corridors last Friday in addition to compulsory pre-departure Covid testing for all inbound travellers.
The prime minister said on Thursday that it was too soon to know whether UK lockdown rules could be lifted in the spring.
Patel, giving a Downing Street press conference, said that it was “far too early to speculate around restrictions” when asked if people should book summer holidays. Her comments echoed those made previously by foreign secretary Dominic Raab.
Separately, health secretary Matt Hancock told MPs: “It’s about making sure that new variants that might not have been dealt with as effectively by the vaccine… don’t arrive and to stop them from coming.
“So that it is something on which we have recently taken very significant action and will keep under very close review.”
Environment secretary George Eustace did not rule out implementing further restrictions on travel.
He told Sky News this morning: “There is concern at the moment about the number of mutant strains of this coronavirus cropping up in other countries, concerns that there’s a risk that one day there will be a stain that is able to evade the vaccine.
“That’s why, last week, the prime minister toughened up the restrictions. We’ve already toughened it up, and that’s the policy for now, but everything’s always under review.”
But Gloria Guevara, president and chief executive of the World Travel & Tourism Council, said that forcing arrivals into quarantine hotels would be “yet another crushing blow to the ailing UK travel and tourism sector”, with no evidence that compulsory periods of self-isolation for travellers actually worked.
Travel commentator Paul Charles, chief executive of PR firm The PC Agency, tweeted: “There now appears to be a clear vaccine v vacation strategy from #UKGov as it considers these options:
- Introducing a blanket ban on all arrivals and departures
- Quarantining arrivals in hotels
- Introduction of travel bans as and when new variants are discovered
- Scraping the Test to Release scheme and making everyone self-isolate for ten days
- GPS Tagging – monitoring the mobile phones of everyone who comes into the UK.”
Meanwhile, transport secretary Grant Shapps banned all arrivals from Tanzania and Democratic Republic of Congo from 4am today (Friday) “to help stop the spread of the Covid-19 variant identified in South Africa”.
He added: “ We are continuing to monitor Covid-19 rates and new strains of the virus across the globe. This alongside the suspension of travel corridors and pre-departure testing will help protect our borders.”