International travel to return 'towards end of year' says expert
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Meanwhile, anyone who breaks their 10-day isolation in supervised hotels will be fined up to £10,000. All passengers must also pay £1,750 for staying in these hotels. The tough new regime for those arriving from 33 “red list” countries – where Covid variants have been reported – was unveiled by Matt Hancock yesterday. He said his measures were designed to keep the newly emerging virus mutations, which could resist vaccines, away from the UK.
It follows criticism that the Government has not acted quickly enough to seal Britain’s borders.
Mr Hancock told MPs: “I make no apologies for the strength of these measures, because we are dealing with one of the strongest threats to our public health that we have faced as a nation.
“I know that most people have been doing their bit, making huge sacrifices as part of the national effort, and these new enforcement powers will make sure that their hard work and sacrifice is not undermined by a small minority who do not want to follow the rules.”
He spoke as the Government’s daily data revealed a further 1,052 deaths, taking the UK total to 113,850. A further 12,364 lab-confirmed cases were reported taking the total number to 3,972,148.
Mr Hancock said: “Our fight against this virus has many fronts, and just as we are attacking this virus through our vaccination programme, we are buttressing our defences with these vital measures to protect the progress that together we have worked so hard to accomplish.”
Under the measures, anyone travelling from a “red list” country, including many destinations in southern Africa and South America, will be expected to book a quarantine accommodation package through the Government’s website before beginning their trip.
The rule will apply from Monday to any UK or Irish citizen who has been to one of the listed destinations within the last 10 days, even if they have returned via a territory with a lower Covid alert level.
Passengers will only be able to enter the UK through a small number of main airports and ports.
On arrival, they will be escorted to their nearby quarantine hotel – closed to all other guests – where they will have to stay for at least 10 days. They will have to stay in their rooms for the entire quarantine period.
Sixteen hotels with an initial 4,600 rooms are on standby to begin receiving the passengers.
Security staff will patrol the hotels to ensure compliance, and healthcare will be available for any passenger who becomes ill. Everyone will have to take two Covid tests during their stay, on the second and eighth days, which they will also have to book online before they travel.
Anyone testing positive for coronavirus will have to quarantine for a further 10 days from the test date. Any positive tests will be examined to discover if they are a variant.
Fines for law breakers will include £1,000 for any arrival who fails to take a mandatory test and £2,000 for failing to take the second test, as well as an automatic extension of their quarantine period to 14 days.
Arrivals who fail to stay in designated quarantine hotels could be fined between £5,000 and £10,000. Mr Hancock promised that the Government was also “coming down hard on” people putting false information on the passenger locator form, which says where they will be staying.
“Anyone who lies on a passenger locator form and tries to conceal that they have 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,” he said.
The new rules will apply to passengers coming into England and Wales.
Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish government has gone further by requiring all international travellers arriving in Scotland to stay in a quarantine hotel. In the Commons, a string of Tory backbenchers raised questions about how long the Covid restrictions will last.
Former minister Mark Harper, the chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, said: “When is this policy going to end, if ever?
“Because if the virus continues to mutate, surely the risk is going to be there forever and so when can it be removed?”
William Wragg, another Tory backbencher, said: “The original purpose of lockdown was to keep hospitals from falling over and to reduce hospitalisations. So if that is achieved through a vaccination programme, is it now the Government’s intention to use the level of the virus in circulation – the number of cases in the population – as the determination as when to ease lockdown?”
A spokeswoman for travel trade organisation Abta said requiring passengers to pay for multiple tests once leisure travel is restarted will have “serious cost implications” and “hurt demand”.
Rory Boland, editor of consumer magazine Which? Travel, said the policy would be “prohibitively expensive” for many people.
He added: “Airlines should be made to offer passengers the option of cancelling for a full refund or fee-free rebooking while these restrictions remain in place.”
Paul Charles, of travel consultancy the PC Agency, said: “It’s no wonder hotels are less than enthusiastic. Their costs will outstrip the income from the Government.”
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