As the UK Government strives to combat the spread of new Covid variants, all eyes are on our international borders. Currently, of course, they are closed to anybody without a negative Covid-19 result – and all arrivals into the country must quarantine for up to ten days.
However, the quarantine system is not without fault: yes, the £1,000 fine for breaches is a hefty deterrent, but even senior Border Force officials have said the wider system is 'unenforceable'.
The solution? That is currently being debated by ministers – but one option looking increasingly likely is quarantine hotels, or 'directed isolation'. Such facilities are already in use across Asia, New Zealand and Australia, in which arriving travellers must see out their quarantine under supervision.
Whitehall sources have confirmed that “early discussions” have been held over adopting a similar system.
But how might the idea work in the UK, and who would have to foot the bill? Here's what it could look like.
What is a quarantine hotel?
Travellers are confined to their rooms or apartments for the duration of their quarantine: usually 10-14 days. They may have food delivered to their rooms, cooked either by the hotel or from a local takeaway service, and may also prepare their own meals – subject to in-room facilities.
They must not leave their room, nor accept visitors. Any breaches usually carry a hefty fine: in Australia, the penalty is A$20,000 (£11,300).
According to The Sunday Times, officials were last week ordered to study New Zealand’s policy of "directed isolation". However, a Number 10 source said the report was "speculation" and that the UK Government was often looking at other countries' approaches in tackling the pandemic.
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “We have shown we are prepared to take decisive action at the border where we believe it will aid our fight against coronavirus and protect the rollout of the vaccine. We keep all measures under review.”
What are the quarantine requirements now?
The UK’s ‘travel corridor’ system has now been suspended, so all arrivals into the UK must quarantine. While initially this is a ten-day requirement, travellers may take a test on the fifth day of isolation – and end their isolation if a negative test result is received.
This is in addition to the negative result required to enter the UK.
Currently, all UK arrivals must quarantine at a fixed address: at home, with a relative or friend, or in a hotel or self-catering property. Any hotel is sufficient, though most of the country’s hotels are currently closed.
Which hotels would be used – and where would they be?
In countries where 'directed isolation' currently takes place, travellers are transported by bus from airports and arrival points, directly to dedicated hotels. Only large, self-contained properties are suitable for the task: often part of chains, like the Conrad Centennial Singapore (operated by Hilton), and Four Points by Sheraton Auckland (operated by Marriott).
They are usually close to airports and transport hubs, with dwellings of various sizes. Apartment hotels are particularly popular, enabling families to isolate together – often with self-contained cooking and washing facilities.
In every instance, guests must stay entirely within their own room, suite or apartment; venturing into public areas is not permitted.
When could it happen?
There are no reports that such a plan will be introduce imminently. The Telegraph understands that the Government has various options under review.
How long would you have to stay?
All travellers would have to stay for the duration of their quarantine – so ten days (under current legislation), with the option to take a test on the fifth day under the ‘Test to Release’ scheme.
What could it be like?
If the Australian quarantine hotels are anything to go by, it would be a mildly claustrophobic yet largely boring experience. As Telegraph Travel's Ronan O'Connell experienced when he returned to Perth, WA, with his family last year:
The Police who questioned us at Perth airport about our health and travel plans were firm but pleasant. The bus driver who ferried us to the Westin Hotel under police escort politely checked if my son was comfortable.
The hotel, meanwhile, could not have been any more accommodating. On-site nurses have called our rooms several times to ask about our health. Hotel porters have cheerily delivered us breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as meals we’ve ordered online from outside restaurants.
The concierge even sent a bag of toys to my boy, accompanied by a note wishing him well during quarantine. Not to mention that our adjoining rooms are huge and plush. Aside from 55-inch TVs that have never been busier, our rooms’ best features are the floor-to-ceiling windows that offer distracting views across the Perth CBD.
Who would pay?
In all likelihood, it will be travellers that foot the bill. The Australian Government originally covered the cost of hotel quarantine, but changed its tune in July 2020: arrivals must now pay up to £1,500 for their two-week stay.
According to reports, the UK Government is only considering plans where hotel stays would be funded by the traveller themselves – or, perhaps, their insurance policy.