The Government’s plan to quarantine international arrivals in hotels has today been thrown into chaos as its booking website crashed minutes into its launch, while travellers were not allowed to reserve rooms for the first two days.
Arrivals from a ‘red list’ of 33 countries – who will only be allowed to fly into one of five airports – will be expected pay £1,750 to quarantine for 10 full days (11 nights) in designated hotels from Monday.
Those who attempt to evade quarantine by providing false information face a fine of up to £10,000, and up to 10 years in prison, while those who do not book a hotel place before arrival in England face a £4,000 fine.
But as the booking website for the scheme was today launched, searches at Birmingham, Glasgow and Heathrow airports showed they weren’t ‘any applicable hotels,’ for passengers to stay in.
The Government is already thought to have contracted 16 hotels, with the £50-a-night Thistle near Heathrow believed to be one of them.
The booking website asks people to state the airport they are landing at, along with the date and the number of people arriving.
It then lists what is included in the quarantine package, such as food, drinks, transfers, security costs and two Covid tests. The website also informs visitors that there is a £650 surcharge for an extra adult in the same room, and a £325 charge for children aged between 5 and 12.
However, minutes after going live, the website was taken down, with an error message telling visitors developers were carrying out ‘some maintenance’. The website does appear to be working for some visitors.
A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson said the problem was a ‘minor technical issue’ and that the website was ‘currently undergoing maintenance’.
The spokesperson said: ‘Rooms are available from Monday 15 February and travellers will be able to book through the site imminently.’
Full details of where the hotels are located have not been released by DHSC, though Best Western and Accor have reportedly offered to take part in the scheme. Premier Inn says it has not signed up.
It comes Matt Hancock this week unveiled England’s new quarantine programme for Britons arriving home from Covid hotspots abroad.
The measures are aimed at stopping Covid variants discovered in countries such as Sotuh Africa and Brazil taking hold in the UK.
Meanwhile, Heathrow Airport chiefs today warned that unless there is a way to revive the travel industry soon, thousands more jobs will be lost.
Bosses at the London airport fear that once the quarantine rules are introduced on Monday only the ‘desperate and wealthy’ will be flying.
Ahead of the new measures being introduced, face mask wearing passengers pushing large trolleys of luggage were today seen streaming through the arrivals area at Heathrow.
A large group of people were also seen waiting at the arrivals area waiting for passengers, while there were queues at departures as people checked-in for flights leaving the UK.
The quarantine hotel website chaos comes as in other Covid-related news:
- Matt Hancock warned ‘nothing is certain’ when it comes to summer holidays asministers urge Brits not to book trips;
- The number of Covid cases fell by 25% in a week and infections drop in EVERY region and age group again, official data shows;
- Nicola Sturgeon scales back vaccine appointments in Scotland blaming supply shortages despite No10 voicing ‘confidence’ UK has enough;
- No10 advisers say Covid infections must fall from 750,000 to fewer than 10,000, the Rule of Six should stay for a year and we could be wearing masks forever
The Government’s hotel quarantine website launched this afternoon – but passengers looking to return to Britain next week are facing problems using the website already
Minutes after going live, the quarantine hotel website was taken down by developers who told visitors they were carrying out ‘some maintenance’
A website for arrivals to book their quarantine stay has gone live today – but searches for Birmingham, Glasgow and Heathrow airports couldn’t find ‘any applicable hotels,’ for passengers
MailOnline understands that the 3-star Thistle Hotel at Heathrow could be among the UK’s quarantine hotels where guests will have to pay £1,750 for ten nights – or more if with their families
Heathrow Airport chiefs today warned that unless there is a way to revive the travel industry soon thousands more jobs will be lost. Pictured: Long queues of people at the check-in desks at Heathrow Airport today
Bosses at the London airport fear that once the quarantine rules are introduced on Monday only the ‘desperate and wealthy’ will be flying. Pictured: The Heathrow Airport arrivals area was busy today as passengers streamed back into the UK
Heathrow Airport appeared busy this morning as passengers were seen flooding back into Britain. Pictured: People wait at the International Arrivals area of Heathrow Airport today
It comes as Matt Hancock this week finally unveiled England’s new quarantine programme for Britons arriving home from Covid hotspots abroad. Pictured: People wait for arrivals to touch-down at Heathrow Airport today
There were also large queues at departures as people checked-in for flights leaving the UK. New quarantine measures for those arriving into Britain are to be introduced from Monday
Britons abroad and other airline passengers have today been seen streaming into the UK with three days left before strict new quarantine measures are introduced. Pictured: A large group of people at the arrivals area of Heathrow Airport today as people flood back into the UK
The arrivals landed in Heathrow today, as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer visited the busy London airport, where he delivered a scathing attack on the Government’s quarantine scheme.
Travellers who don’t book a hotel quarantine place face a £4,000 fine
Travellers arriving in England from 33 ‘red list’ countries who don’t pre-book a space at a quarantine hotel face a £4,000 fine – and will still have to pay the cost of their stay.
Arrivals the Covid hotspots will have to pay £1,750 to quarantine for 10 full days (11 nights) in designated hotels from Monday.
The package includes the costs of transport from the port of arrival to the designated hotel, food, accommodation, security, other essential services and testing.
But the government warns those who have not arranged a quarantine package prior to their arrival in England, ‘face a penalty of up to £4,000 and will still have to pay for your quarantine package on arrival’.
The costs for the 11 night stay, including food, drink and transfers, are £1,750 for one adult in one room, with a £650 additional rate for 1 adult (or child over 12) and a £325 rate for a child aged 5–12.
Meanwhile, providing false or deliberately misleading information when filling out your passenger locator form is an offence punishable by imprisonment.
The Government warns that you could be fined up to £10,000, imprisoned for up to 10 years, or both, if you do not provide accurate details about the countries you have visited in the 10 days before you arrived in the UK.
An estimated 10,000 travellers arriving in the UK from ‘higher-risk countries’ every day will avoid hotel quarantine, Labour warns.
‘I don’t think anybody would argue that’s a system that’s going to work,’ Sir Keir said.
The Labour analysis is based on the number of people travelling from countries where the South African or Brazilian coronavirus variants are circulating but which are not on the Government’s red list. This includes locations such as France, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands.
Speaking to reports during his visit to the airport today, he said: ‘Our concern isn’t their preparations, because they’re getting on with that.
‘Our concern is that we now know that there are variants in countries that aren’t on the red list. So this partial approach by the Government isn’t going to work.
‘We are at this crucial stage now where it’s a race between the vaccine and variants, and the only way through this is to buy time by having a comprehensive system of quarantine in hotels, wherever you come from.’
The Labour leader, who is planning a holiday in Devon in August ‘subject to the restrictions’, also warned the Government not to give ‘mixed messages’ on the possibility of foreign holidays this summer.
It comes as Mr Hancock today insisted ministers are ‘doing everything we can’ to make sure people can go on holidays this summer – but admitted there is no guarantee of success.
The Health Secretary confirmed that he has already booked a trip to Cornwall, despite Grant Shapps sparking fury yesterday by saying Britons should not plan trips ‘domestically or internationally’.
However, Mr Hancock risked fuelling Tory MP frustration further by insisting that even though the vaccine rollout has surged ahead the situation is ‘uncertain’ with mutant coronavirus strains running riot.
‘What we have all been saying is we will do everything we can to make sure that people can have a holiday but these are uncertain times,’ Mr Hancock said in a round of interviews this morning.
‘That is something people understand – especially after the last year, people really get that.’
Mr Hancock also insisted he made ‘no apology’ for his bloodcurdling threat of 10 years in jail for travellers to the UK who lie about visiting high-risk ‘red list’ countries.
The arrivals landed in Heathrow today, as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (pictured) visited the busy London airport, where he delivered a scathing attack on the Government’s quarantine scheme
Sir Keir, pictured during a visit to Heathrow Airport today, also warned the Government not to give ‘mixed messages’ on the possibility of foreign holidays this summer
Mr Shapps’ blunt comments sparked a day of chaos yesterday, with Downing Street distancing itself from his views at lunchtime, saying it was a ‘choice for individuals’.
But Boris Johnson, who earlier this month said he was ‘optimistic’ about the prospect of summer holidays, then echoed his minister’s gloomy line at a Downing Street press conference.
He warned it was ‘just too early for people to be certain about what we will be able to do this summer’.
Despite the cautious message from the PM, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden are working on packages to promote holidays in the UK.
One senior Tory said: ‘We are in danger of making ‘holiday’ a dirty word when it should be exactly the sort of aspirational thing we are celebrating.’
Meanwhile, scientists have voiced scepticism about whether it will be possible to ease the government’s extreme border crackdown anytime soon.
Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, said booking a holiday now is ‘one hell of a gamble’.
And Professor Devi Sridhar warned that sacrificing foreign holidays was likely to be the price for easing the lockdown in the UK.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps sparked a furious backlash after declaring yesterday morning: ‘People shouldn’t be booking holidays right now – not domestically or internationally’
Health Secretary Matt Hancock (pictured) has revealed to Tory MPs he has already booked a holiday in Cornwall this summer
CAN I GET A REFUND FOR HOLIDAYS?
Can I get a refund if my travel company cancels the trip?
Yes, if you’ve booked a package holiday, by law the travel company must refund your holiday if they cancel it.
Some firms have been pushing customers to accept vouchers, but you are entitled to a full cash refund.
Those who have privately booked holidays will likely be able to rearrange their flights for free.
But accommodation costs will be harder to recover and most travel insurance policies do not cover government coronavirus travel restrictions.
Can I get a refund if I cancel my flight?
Many companies have a policy whereby if they cancel the trip, customers are entitled to a full cash refund.
Whereas if the customer cancels, often they will only be entitled to a voucher to put towards a future flight, or the option of rescheduling.
The best option is checking with your provider.
I no longer want to travel. Should I cancel my flight now?
Probably not. If you cancel now, you are not entitled to a refund under the law.
But you are if the company cancels your flights. Most carriers will also let you rearrange your flights free of charge.
Guy Anker of Money Saving Expert told MailOnline: ‘The general message is wait to see if they cancel on you, unless you get close to their cut off to get something back.’
He added: ‘It’s a bit like a game of chicken to some extent. It’s not a game of wait to the last second, it’s a game of wait to the last second until you can get something back.’
Ministers have already put dreams of a summer break abroad in jeopardy, with the introduction of draconian border controls backed by the threat of ten-year prison sentences for those who try to cheat the system.
Mr Shapps yesterday said opening up foreign travel would depend on ‘everybody having their vaccinations’ – a process not currently due to be completed until the autumn.
The PM later told MPs that people would have to ‘get used to the idea of re-vaccinating in the autumn’ to counter new variants of the disease.
But suggestions that domestic holidays could also be disrupted sparked anger among Tory MPs and travel bosses.
Mr Hancock said the public will need to be ‘patient’ over the prospect of summer holidays this year.
‘I know that people are yearning for certainty over whether they can have a summer holiday, but pandemics are difficult times and there is a lot of uncertainty so I am afraid that people will have to be patient before we can get that certainty,’ he told BBC Breakfast.
‘We are doing everything that we possibly can to make sure that people can have a holiday this summer but the vaccine rollout is absolutely essential to that.
‘We will set out more in more detail when we can, but at the moment unfortunately there is that uncertainty still.’
Scientists lined up today to urge a cautious approach to easing lockdown, despite the massive damage being inflicted on the economy and mental health.
Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, said it is ‘not sensible’ to predict when Covid-19 restrictions can be lifted and when people might be able to go on holiday.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: ‘It is not sensible to set a date when restrictions will be lifted – those restrictions can and they will be lifted, but only when the data allows that to be true. Setting a date now, arbitrarily, for some date in March or April, frankly doesn’t make any sense.
‘I appreciate that businesses have to plan and everything else, but the data has to drive us, and in 2020 we lifted restrictions too quickly when the date would not really have allowed that and, frankly, as a result the transmission went back up in this country.’
Dr Simon Clarke told LBC: ‘Where I am is that I’d very much like to be able to go on holiday in the UK or elsewhere, but I think the Government is looking at this from the perspective of having perhaps been too optimistic in parts last year, and having had its fingers burned.
‘It allowed itself, I think, to be pressured into allowing travel corridors when perhaps some of those were not so wise, and it’s looking at that this year and being deliberately cautious because it doesn’t want to be in that situation again.’
He added: ‘We don’t know where we’re going to be, not only in this country in terms of vaccinations, but in terms of spread of troublesome variants and what other countries are going to have been able to do.
Infections must fall below 10,000 before lockdown can be eased, says top scientist
A leading scientists has warned infections need to fall below 10,000 – from around 750,000 currently – before lockdown can be eased.
Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, said transmission was still ‘incredibly high’ even though cases are falling quickly.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Sir Jeremy said: ‘Transmission is still incredibly high in the UK. If transmission were still at this level and we were not in lockdown, we would be going into lockdown.
‘There are 750,000 people today in the UK infected, there’s still huge pressure on the NHS and on critical care in this country.
‘We’ve made enormous progress – the UK deserves great credit for the science behind the vaccines and the rollout (with) 30 million people now vaccinated in this country.
‘But the transmission rate is incredibly high still and we’ve got to get it lower, we’ve got to get it – in my view – into the single thousands before we can possibly think of lifting restrictions.’
‘So it really is too early to say. I think if people were to book holidays now, I’d like to do that myself, it would be one hell of a gamble.’
Prof Sridhar told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We have seen that it’s possible.
‘If we look across the world to New Zealand, Australia, East Asian countries, and even the debate’s now happening within Japan and now in Germany, you’re seeing there’s a turn towards saying: ‘Do we want to use our vaccines and the tools we have to actually just stop transmission of the virus and be able to get back our normal life, which means normal schooling, fully open and crowded restaurants and bars, gyms and fitness studios, live music festivals, large spectator sports events, but the cost is restricted movement internationally?
‘I think we need to have a very open debate about that because I think people want it all, and realising that (in) a pandemic, when we try to have it all we end up having very little.’
However, Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye warned that businesses are struggling to survive and quarantine rules coming in from Monday are set to hammer passenger numbers even more.
He told Sky News some aviation firms had gone a year without any revenue: ‘Businesses cannot keep going like that. And the only thing they can do is to slash their costs, and unfortunately that often means people lose their jobs.
‘And I think at Heathrow we’ve probably lost between 15,000 and 25,000 jobs across the whole airport in the last 11 months – that is the size of a small town, with people who have lost their jobs.
‘That is devastating to local communities and devastating to the businesses as well.
‘Unless we see some recovery plan from the Government and some support for the aviation sector financially then I’m afraid that more jobs are at risk.’
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer – who plans to holiday in Devon – urged ministers to be cautious in the way they communicate about the summer plans as the pandemic continues.
‘It’s very difficult to predict what’s going to happen later in the year,’ he told reporters on a visit to Heathrow.
‘We’ve got a holding of a holiday in August in the UK, but we are going to have to see. It’s subject to the restrictions and that’s the best anybody can do.’
He acknowledged it was ‘really difficult’ for ministers to know what will happen over the coming months.
‘I’m not going to stand here and criticise the Government for being unable to say with precision what’s going to happen in August, I don’t think that’s fair,’ he said.
‘What I do think they should avoid is mixed messages – so don’t say, one day, through the Prime Minister, ‘it’ll all be fine’ and through the Transport Secretary say ‘don’t book a holiday’.
Sir Charles Walker, vice-chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs, yesterday led condemnation of the suggestion that people should not book summer breaks in the UK was ‘extraordinary and unacceptable’.
He insisted the goalposts for easing lockdown had ‘not so much been moved as ripped out and moved to another playing field’.
Shapps says ‘vaccines passports’ likely to happen in the future
Grant Shapps today said he believes ‘vaccine passports’ will happen so holidays can resume when the pandemic eases.
The Transport Secretary confirmed the government is working on a system and was having talks with other countries.
However, he stressed it is not the same thing as documentation to allow people to access services in this country, which is not being considered.
Mr Shapps said in a round of interviews: ‘I imagine that in the future there will be an international system where countries will want to know that you have been potentially vaccinated or potentially had tests taken before flying.
‘I was speaking to my Singaporean counterpart, I was speaking to my US counterpart this week, and we’ll have discussions about those things to have an internationally recognised system.’
He said: ‘We had summer holidays last year when we didn’t have vaccines. Now we have vaccines coming out of our ears we are being told we can’t book a holiday. It is very strange and very frustrating.’
Sir Charles, who called on the PM to ‘rein in’ Mr Shapps and Mr Hancock, warned that lockdown was becoming ‘an extended exercise in almost studied and deliberate cruelty for a nation now that is increasingly anxious and under pressure’.
In a further sign of Tory unease about the lockdown, 24 MPs yesterday staged a symbolic rebellion over Covid regulations relating to house parties.
Steve Double, Tory chairman of the all-party hospitality and tourism group, said it was ‘almost too late’ to book a holiday in many parts of the UK.
He stressed it was ‘essential’ that the PM set out a timetable for the reopening of the domestic tourism industry when he publishes his road map out of lockdown later this month.
Mr Double said: ‘I don’t know about telling people it’s too early to book a UK holiday this summer – in many places like Cornwall it’s too late.
‘People are listening to what is being said about foreign travel and booking in this country.’
The PM previously indicated that the road map, due in the week beginning February 22, would offer guidance on holidays. Asked directly whether it was safe to book for this summer, he replied yesterday: ‘I understand why people want to make plans now, but we’re just going to have to be a little bit more patient.’
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer last night urged ministers to ‘stop the mixed messages’ on holidays adding: ‘That really isn’t helping.’
Mr Johnson also warned that the reopening of the economy and society would be ‘cautious’.
He added: ‘What businesses up and down the country are going to want is a cautious and measured approach that is pragmatic and one we don’t have to retreat from or reverse.’
Microbiologist Professor Paul Hunter yesterday said the tough border restrictions should be lifted once the over-50s are vaccinated at the end of April.
Ministers have already put dreams of a summer break abroad in jeopardy, with the introduction of draconian border controls backed by the threat of ten-year prison sentences for those who try to cheat the system. Mr Shapps yesterday said opening up foreign travel would depend on ‘everybody having their vaccinations’ – a process not currently due to be completed until the autumn (stock image)
He told the BBC’s World At One: ‘The things we are trying to keep out are probably already here. Border restrictions may have some value in terms of delaying things until we have got more vaccine. But in the longer term I cannot see them having any substantial ongoing benefit after April.’
Travel chiefs yesterday warned of a ‘second lost summer’ and stepped up urgent calls for a bailout and recovery package.
Tim Alderslade, of Airlines UK, wrote to Mr Johnson, saying in order to run a full flying programme in July, airlines need to begin planning by the end of the month.
Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary told Sky News: ‘If everybody over 50 is vaccinated by the end of May, frankly there’s going to be no justification for restricting people’s civil liberties or forcing them to sit at home when the risk of coronavirus has been hugely reduced.
Ryanair is still urging people to book summer holidays, with Mr O’Leary firing a stinging broadside at the Transport Secretary.
‘Nobody in the travel industry would take any advice from Grant Shapps who has mismanaged almost every aspect of travel during the pandemic,’ he said.
Tui announced yesterday that 2.8million people have booked holidays for this year, more than half of them Britons, while Jet2 yesterday cancelled all of its holidays until April 14.
Many of the trips have already been rescheduled from last year, or booked on the back of ministers’ previous predictions that life would be back to normal by ‘Christmas’ or ‘Easter’.
Package holiday customers now face a wait to see if companies will cancel their holidays, entitling them to a refund, or offer to reschedule their breaks for later in the year or next year.
Anyone who has booked their own flights should be able to reschedule for free under most airlines coronavirus rules, but face losing accommodation costs such as Airbnbs.
And if rules were to be lifted before Autumn – Matt Hancock has indicated quarantine rules will stay until it is ‘safe’ to lift them – prices are expected to rocket as demand soars for a limited supply of flights and destinations.
Ryanair has already said it still expects the travel restrictions to be lifted despite the tough rhetoric from the government.
A spokesman said: ‘The UK’s successful vaccine rollout program eliminates the need for these draconian travel restrictions from May onwards.
‘If all over 50s are vaccinated by May as predicted by Boris Johnson, then the risk of the Covid virus to the health service is severely diminished and this must give rise to the removal of travel restrictions on UK citizens, particularly on short-haul flights both within the UK and to/from Europe.’
Meanwhile staycation costs have already rocketed this year, with one ultra-luxurious two week break in Scotland being marketed for £600,000 and Cornwall reporting a flood of bookings.
Other Brits are block booking holiday cottages for weeks at a time for a so-called ‘workation’ – allowing them to work remotely from their holiday destination.
One disappointed customer is Lauren Porteous, 23, from Newcastle, has been forced to re-book her trip to Florida three times during the pandemic – and is now braced for it to be delayed for a fourth time.
She initially booked her trip to the US in April last year in the hope of going in November, before it was pushed back to May and now August.
She told MailOnline: ‘We’re going to be waiting until closer to the time to see how things are… If we have to change our flights and dates again though, we will.’
The test analyst, who also has a trip booked for Los Angeles in August, said she has a mixed experience with travel companies – some have been accommodating while others have been a ‘nightmare’.
Asked if she was worried about her trip being cancelled, the she said: ‘I’m more worried about being stuck here for longer… I hate being in the same place for too long and I’m missing LA so much.
Lauren Porteous, 23, from Newcastle, has been forced to re-book her trip to Florida three times during the pandemic – and is now braced for it to be delayed for a fourth time
Tui announced yesterday that 2.8million people have booked holidays for this year, while Jet2 said there is ‘huge pent-up demand’ for trips abroad
‘At the moment we can keep changing flights as many times as we need, so I’m not too worried about it yet.’
However many would-be holidaymakers are demanding refunds and want to know what what options they have to claw back their money.
Experts advised people against immediately cancelling their flights as it could prevent their entitlement to a full cash refund.
Guy Anker, deputy editor of MoneySavingExpert, told MailOnline: ‘This is a bad story for people who want a holiday – but financially there’s a lot that can be done.’
He said: ‘A lot of it will depend on the holiday company and their rules. So the first thing to do is check with your holiday company.
‘The second point is that a lot of these companies will have built-in flexibility.
‘The general message is wait to see if they cancel on you, unless you get close to their cut off to get something back.
He explained that many, but not all, companies have a policy whereby if they cancel the trip, customers are entitled to a full cash refund.
Whereas if the customer cancels, often they will only be entitled to a voucher to put towards a future flight, or the option of rescheduling.
Mr Anker said: ‘It’s a bit like a game of chicken to some extent. It’s not a game of wait to the last second, it’s a game of wait to the last second until you can get something back.’
Nicky Kelvin, director of content at The Points Guy UK, agreed: For now, the best advice is to sit tight.
‘If you don’t already know, check now with the airline or company you have booked with to see if your booking is flexible or refundable.
‘If it is, you can wait to see what happens, and then be ready to cancel or re-book once you can be certain the trip won’t happen.’