LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will announce on Tuesday whether it will bring in mandatory quarantine in hotels for some or all arrivals, the country’s coronavirus vaccination minister said as he warned the public not to book summer vacations.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he was looking at the option of introducing quarantine hotels for those coming to Britain to prevent the risk of “vaccine-busting” new coronavirus variants entering the country.
Nadhim Zahawi, the minister responsible for the rollout of the United Kingdom’s COVID-19 vaccination programme, said details would come later on Tuesday.
“The government is looking at, as the prime minister has confirmed, the hotel quarantine policy, and we’ll make an announcement on this in the appropriate way,” he told BBC TV.
Home Secretary (interior minister) Priti Patel, whose department is responsible for border security, told parliament existing measures were under review and the government would not hesitate to take further action.
“It would be wrong to speculate about any measures that are not in place right now as policy is being developed,” Patel told lawmakers.
Britain has suffered a sharp rise in infections and deaths in the new year, fuelled partly by a new more highly contagious variant of the virus first identified in southeast England.
There has been concern about the impact of other strains discovered in South Africa and Brazil, and whether these variants might impact on the effectiveness of vaccines which are seen as key to Britain’s way out from strict lockdown measures.
The country has the world’s fifth worst death toll from the pandemic, with 98,531 people dying within 28 days of a positive test, and one of the deepest economic contractions on record. Official figures on Tuesday showed the unemployment rate had hit its highest level in nearly five years.
The BBC reported the new hotel quarantine requirement would mean arrivals from most of southern Africa and South America, as well as Portugal, would have to isolate in a hotel for 10 days.
It said there had been “no definitive decision yet” on those coming from other parts of the world. Johnson chaired a meeting with senior ministers on Tuesday, but it was unclear when any announcement would be made.
The measures, among the strictest in Europe if introduced, have alarmed the travel industry with UK-based airlines and airports warning a further tightening of rules would be “catastrophic”.
Britain currently bans most international travel, with flight volumes down 80% compared to 2019 and more than 45,000 jobs lost in the sector.
Airlines UK, which represents carriers including British Airways and easyJet, said in a statement with the country’s trade body for airports that more restrictions could impact cargo movements, including PPE supplies, and more jobs could be lost.
“We have fully supported the government to do what is right in the face of this pandemic, but policy should be based on evidence and there must be a roadmap out of these restrictions as soon as it is safe,” they said.
In further worrying news for the industry, Zahawi said the public should not be booking holidays abroad this summer.
“There’s still 37,000 people in hospital with COVID at the moment, it’s far too early for us to even speculate about the summer,” he told Sky News.
(Additional reporting by Paul Sandle, Sarah Young and Elizabeth Piper; editing by Estelle Shirbon and Ed Osmond)