The government system of mandatory hotel quarantine for arrivals from ‘red-list’ countries began “smoothly” on Monday despite intense media scrutiny and the last-minute release of protocols for airports, airlines and Border Force staff.
Delays at Heathrow arrivals were reported as “less than hour” after the airport warned of delays up to five hours at the weekend as passengers from 33 red list countries sought to beat the new quarantine regime.
The head of the Immigration Service Union which represents Border Force staff said: “Everyone who could avoid the quarantine measures did so.”
An industry source told Travel Weekly late on Monday: “Border Force did not seem to think there were any major issues. Airlines reported nothing disastrous.”
However, there has been criticism of the lack of segregation of passengers from red-list destinations on flights and at the airport.
Labour MP Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee of MPs, said: “The whole point of these measures is to prevent new variants from spreading. That won’t happen if there are still too many holes in the system.”
Yet the industry source said: “The government view is everybody faces 10 days’ isolation and has three Covid-tests to take, so that supersedes the mixing of people.”
A Downing Street spokesperson also insisted passengers underwent different processes “from the point they land”.
All arrivals not subject to hotel quarantine must self-isolate at home for 10 days and, having had a Covid test up to 72 hours before arrival, take further tests on the second and eighth days of quarantine at their own expense.
The ‘red list’ of 33 countries includes Portugal, Brazil, South Africa and the UAE.
Arrivals in England have to pre-book their hotel from a government portal and pay £1,750 to cover the cost of the accommodation, transport and testing.
In Scotland, hotel quarantine applies to all arrivals.
Heathrow said the measures had come into effect “successfully” and it would monitor whether Border Force had adequate resource “to avoid unacceptable waiting times and compromising the safety of passengers”.
The government only issued instructions on the new regime to airlines and airports on Saturday in an updated Covid-19 UK Border Measures document.
This includes the following “Essential information to enter the UK”:
1) All persons (including UK nationals and residents) arriving in the UK from outside the common travel area must provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken within 3 days of departure to the UK. For further information please visit: www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-testing-for-people-travelling-to-england
2) To protect your health and others’, everyone must complete an online passenger locator form before arrival in the United Kingdom.
3) All arrivals must quarantine for 10 days unless exempt. If you have travelled through a red list country in the last 10 days, you must have a valid Managed Quarantine Facility booked prior to departure. For information please visit: www.gov.uk/travel-quarantine-and-testing. Check the list of exempt countries immediately before travel and the list of work-related exemptions if travelling for work.
4) Everyone is required to take a coronavirus test on days 2 and 8 of their quarantine. You must have this booked prior to departure. For information please visit: www.gov.uk/travel-quarantine-and-testing
5) It is a legal requirement that you wear a face covering on public transport in the UK.
6) If you quarantine in England, you may opt into Test to Release. For further information please visit: www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-test-to-release-for-international-travel
Failure to comply with the above measures is a criminal offence and you could be fined. Please visit www.gov.uk/uk-border-control for detailed public health advice and requirements for entering the UK.
The government has warned other countries could be added with a few hours’ notice and an airport source said: “The red list is going to get longer before it gets shorter.”
Travellers from these high-risk countries can only enter England at five airports: Heathrow, Gatwick, London City, Birmingham and Farnborough.
Speaking on Monday night, Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed he will set out a roadmap next week “saying as much as we possibly can about the route to normality, even though some things are very uncertain”.
He insisted: “Because we want this lockdown to be the last, we want progress to be cautious but also irreversible.”
In response to questions, he said: “I’m increasingly confident and optimistic. But I can’t give a guarantee.
“I will be setting out as much of a timetable as we can give on February 22. I will be setting out as much as I possibly can.”
Asked whether the government is considering introducing vaccination passports, Johnson said: “Some countries are clearly going to insist on evidence of a vaccination just as in the past they insisted you have evidence of a yellow fever vaccination.
“We’ll look at everything, but for the purposes of this country we are looking more at the route of mass vaccination plus rapid testing for the toughest nuts to crack such as night clubs and theatres.
“I think that will be the route we go down. You’re already seeing a lot of businesses doing that. But it’s still early days and there are lots of discussions to be had.”
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