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Britain forces arrivals from 30 countries into hotel quarantine

Heathrow Airport will be checking both arriving and departing passengers for correct Covid paperwork.

Britain has today confirmed that it will be introducing a mandatory hotel quarantine based on isolation models currently used in New Zealand and Australia.

British and Irish citizens arriving from 30 so-called 'red list' countries will be forced to isolate for ten days in government-designated hotels “without exception” and at their own expense. Non-Britons from these countries will continue to be banned from entering the UK.

The red list covers countries that are considered to have a risk of Covid-19 variants. The full list includes Angola, Argentina, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Cape Verde, Chile, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, Eswatini, French Guiana, Guyana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal (including Madeira and the Azores), Seychelles, South Africa, South Africa, Suriname, Tanzania, Uruguay, Venezuela, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

According to British prime minister Boris Johnson, the UK’s Department of Health is working to establish quarantine hotels “as fast as possible”. It’s understood that many of the airport hotels surrounding Heathrow will become designated quarantine hotels; the government has reportedly been in talks with hospitality groups IHG and Marriott this week. Much like the antipodean systems, travellers will be met at the airport and transported directly to their designated hotel. A ten-day isolation is expected to cost around GBP1,500.

British home secretary Priti Patel announced the measures to parliament this afternoon. She outlined that police presence at ports and airports will be ramped up and anyone found to be in breach of regulations will be turned back and fined.

Under current regulations, all arrivals into the UK - including those from outside of the red list countries - must carry a negative Covid-19 test certificate and a completed passenger locator form. Checking of paperwork has caused lengthy queues at Heathrow's border control this week.

All departing passengers will now have to fill-in a declaration form explaining their reason for travel. Under current UK lockdown regulations international travel is prohibited to the vast majority of the population. The declaration will be checked by airlines and Border Force officers and anyone found to be in breach of regulations will be refused boarding. Airlines will be fined up to GBP2,000 if found in breach of the rules. Police will also conduct on-the-spot checks for people's reasons for travel.

The government will also be tightening up the travel exemption list so that only the most exceptional reasons are included. Currently, passengers can depart the UK for educational, business or medical reasons. According to Patel, "going on holiday" is not a valid reason for travel. She said travellers turning up at St Pancras Eurostar terminal with their skis was "clearly not acceptable".

It's expected that the new regulations will come into force in the next two weeks. Many airport hotels are currently closed and it is expected to take between two to three weeks for them to reopen with all necessary quarantine provisions in place. Rob Paterson, chief executive of Best Western Britain, told media it would take just 24 to 48 hours for a currently open hotel to mobilise, but longer for hotels that are shut. The Department of Health and Social Care is working with hotels to establish facilities as quickly as possible.

As for the devolved nations, Northern Ireland said it would be discussing quarantine measures at Stormont this week.

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon, perhaps predictably, described the government’s plan as “not going far enough”. Deputy first minister John Swinney confirmed that the Scottish government would go "at least as far as England" in tightening quarantine measures.

There is currently no direct route into Wales for international travellers.

Further afield, the Republic of Ireland announced earlier today that arrivals from Brazil and South Africa as well as all arrivals without a negative Covid-19 medical certificate will be made to quarantine in a hotel.

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