On the 15th February, new border rules for passengers arriving in England from a country on the banned travel list came into force. Anyone who has visited or passed through a red list country must quarantine in a government-designated hotel for 10 days. Will this be enough to stem the spread of the new variants? Is this all too little too late? Is hotel quarantine the biggest travel farce yet?
No one really knows if hotel quarantine will help stem the spread of new Covid-19 variants. Its introduction is just the latest of the government’s half-baked attempts to secure the nation against the import of the virus. After months of playing travel corridor bingo, a new game of chance has begun and it is riddled with inconsistencies, delays and failings.
The scheme is not uniform across the UK. Scotland will require all arriving air passengers to quarantine in hotels but Wales will enforce the same rules as England.
Plans for the scheme were first announced in January, The setup and implementation has taken weeks because the government needed ‘time to prepare.’ Australia introduced quarantine hotels overnight back in March 2020.
Passengers arriving from the 33 high-risk countries will mix with other passengers and staff before they enter quarantine increasing risk of infection accordingly.
Passengers need to be escorted to their quarantine hotel and not use public or private transport. There have already been reports of this not being the case.
‘Significant gaps’ have been highlighted in the system, which urgently need addressing in order to avoid the compromise of safety.
Passengers arriving from red list countries need to book a ‘managed self isolation package’, which includes hotel, transport and testing. Within minutes of its launch, the online booking system was taken offline due to a technical issue. This does not bode well for a successful rollout.
Many hotels rely on central airflow systems, which could increase risk of transmission. By default, quarantine hotels could potentially become Covid infection hubs with the risk of cross contamination between guests and hotel staff.
Border officials are reportedly unsure of what levels of checks they should conduct.
There is inadequate reassurance with regard to the safety of security halls and protection of front line staff.
Passengers are currently required to provide evidence of a recent negative Covid-19 test. Proof may not be genuine.
The UK has one of the world’s biggest outbreaks. In Australia, hotel quarantine was introduced to reduce risk of international travellers importing the virus into a country where there was no community spread.
As reported in the NewScientist, the new travel policy goes against advice issued in a meeting of the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) on the 21st January, which concluded that “no intervention, other than a complete, pre-emptive closure of borders, or the mandatory quarantine of all visitors upon arrival in designated facilities, irrespective of testing history, can get close to fully prevent the importation of cases or new variants”.
The time has come for us to wake up and smell the coffee. International travel brought the virus into this country, it’s what has spread the virus and we missed the chance to stop it in its tracks by not closing our borders back in March last year. The price we are paying now is far higher than any quarantine hotels and even if we survive, our beleaguered travel industry may well not.