Airport hotels could be full within 24 hours if ministers press ahead with plans to force all arrivals to the UK to quarantine for 10 days at Government-approved accommodation.
Ministers are due to decide tomorrow whether to toughen up the UK’s border rules amid growing concerns about the danger of importing new variants of coronavirus.
The introduction of Australia-style compulsory hotel quarantine is viewed as the most likely outcome of the meeting.
But the Cabinet is said to be split on whether the policy should apply to all arrivals or just to those from hotspot countries with high case numbers or where variants have been identified.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Home Secretary Priti Patel are reportedly both pushing for mandatory hotel quarantine for all arrivals, according to The Telegraph.
Meanwhile, Chancellor Rishi Sunak is also now supporting the plans as the Government tries to protect its vaccination drive, according to The Times.
But Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is said to only want the hotel quarantine requirement to apply to travellers from high-risk countries.
Sources said Boris Johnson is ‘increasingly sympathetic’ to a blanket ban following a meeting with Ms Patel on Friday.
However, the Prime Minister is facing criticism for the amount of time it is taking to move on the issue.
Boris Johnson is under growing pressure to introduce tougher border rules to stop the import of coronavirus variants
Ministers are widely expected to roll out a new hotel quarantine scheme amid a Cabinet row over whether it should apply to all arrivals
How could ministers toughen up UK border rules?
When the Government’s Covid-O Committee meets tomorrow it will reportedly be presented with five border options to choose from.
According to Politico the options are:
A blanket ban on all flights to the UK: An approach recently taken by Israel, it is viewed as the nuclear option and would have a devastating impact on the aviation sector.
Hotel quarantine: Viewed as the most likely option, this would see either some or all arrivals to the UK told to quarantine in Government-approved accommodation fo 10 days.
Travel bans: Flights from countries where new variants of Covid-19 have been discovered could be stopped as has already happened with Brazil and South Africa.
Scrap test and release: The scheme which allows arrivals to leave self-isolation after five days if they get a negative test was only rolled out recently but it could be ditched, with everyone facing 10 days in quarantine again.
Tracking mobile phones: GPS tracking could be used to make sure arrivals to the UK are complying with quarantine rules. Such a move is not viewed as being imminent.
The roll-out of hotel quarantine could pose a logistical nightmare for the Government because of the limited number of rooms close to UK airports.
Government sources told The Telegraph there are about 10,000 rooms close to Heathrow Airport, roughly the same as the number of people arriving via the hub every day.
The introduction of hotel quarantine would likely see the number of arrivals plummet but there are still questions over how ministers would accommodate everyone.
One outcome could be travellers being bussed from a UK airport to another part of the country to complete their 10 day stay in quarantine.
There is said to be growing support in the Cabinet for a blanket ban, with one source telling The Times: ‘The view at both the official and ministerial level is that there is no point doing it in half measures. You might as well do the blanket ban.’
A meeting of the Government’s Covid-O committee will discuss the way forward tomorrow.
Ministers will be presented with five options to choose from, according to Politico.
One option will be a blanket ban on all flights to the UK, another is hotel quarantine, another is imposing travel bans on countries where new variants have been discovered, another is scrapping the test and release scheme and another is using GPS tracking of mobile phones to ensure people comply with quarantine rules.
Hotel quarantine is viewed as the option most likely to be selected although there remain major questions over how such a scheme would work.
For example, it is not yet clear who would pay for the cost of quarantine – the traveller or the Government.
If it is the former the cost of coming to the UK will soar amid fears that any version of the policy will decimate the travel and aviation sectors. Talks between the Government and hotel chains are said to be ongoing.
It is now a week since ministers suspended the travel corridors scheme and imposed new rules on all arrivals to require them to have a negative test before travelling and to quarantine for 10 days.
But Mr Johnson is facing increasing pressure to go further to prevent importing Covid variants and to give the vaccination programme time to reach the nation’s most vulnerable people.
He has also been criticised over the Government’s approach to the border, with Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds claiming yesterday that ministers had been ‘too slow’ to act throughout the pandemic.
He said the current border system ‘isn’t effective’ as he called for the Government to roll-out a ‘comprehensive system and plan’ instead of ‘moving from one chaotic situation to another’.
The fact that the Covid-O committee is not meeting until tomorrow to discuss the matter is likely to lead to further questions over why ministers are delaying action.