Ministers accused of ‘delays beyond comprehension’ over Covid quarantine hotels

Home Secretary Priti Patel during a media briefing

Home Secretary Priti Patel during a media briefing - Credit: PA

Ministers have been accused of being too slow to act after it was disclosed new coronavirus quarantine hotels will not come into force until mid-February.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said that, from February 15, travellers returning to the UK from “red list” countries will have to quarantine in a government-approved facility for 10 days.

The government originally announced last week it would be tightening the rules following the emergence of mutant new strains of the virus in South Africa and Brazil.

Labour said it was “beyond comprehension” that it was taking so long to get the scheme up and running.

The DHSC said it was working “at pace” to ensure designated quarantine hotels would be ready for British nationals returning from high-risk countries on the UK travel ban list from the middle of the month.

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Officials said a commercial specification was issued on Thursday evening to hotels near air and sea ports asking for proposals on how they can support the delivery of quarantine facilities ahead of formal contracts being awarded.

The Daily Telegraph reported that officials were seeking to reserve 28,000 hotel rooms over the course of the scheme.

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The paper said that it had seen documents showing that officials estimate 1,425 passengers will need to be accommodated each day, mostly near Heathrow.

For Labour, shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said the government was again doing “too little, too late”.

“It is beyond comprehension that these measures won’t even start until February 15,” he said.

“We are in a race against time to protect our borders against new Covid strains.

“Yet hotel quarantine will come in to force more than 50 days after the South African strain was discovered.

“Even when these measures eventually begin, they will not go anywhere near far enough to be effective in preventing further variants.”

The announcement of a start date follows days of apparent confusion within Whitehall over how the scheme would be implemented.

When it first was announced on January 27, home secretary Priti Patel said further details would be set out later that week.

Then, at a No 10 press conference on Wednesday, Boris Johnson said home secretary Matt Hancock would be making an announcement the next day, only to be corrected by Downing Street which said no statement was planned.

A DHSC spokesman said they had been in discussions with representatives of the aviation, maritime, hotel and hospitality industries, as well as counterparts in Australia and New Zealand which already have similar schemes.

“We are now working at pace to secure the facilities we need to roll out managed quarantine for British nationals returning home from the most high risk countries,” the spokesman said.

“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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