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The option of banning all non-British travellers from entering the country had previously been turned down by the Prime Minister – but the issue is back on the agenda for a meeting of the Cabinet's Covid operations committee within days.
Whitehall insiders admitted that "parts of Government are pushing the idea" again after new data suggested infections rose in the second week of January despite the ongoing lockdown.
On Thursday night, EU leaders met to consider allowing states to introduce travel bans on non-resident travellers from countries hit by the new strains of the Covid-19 virus.
They agreed there would be additional safety measures for those making essential journeys from non-EU countries such as the UK, including testing before departure.
Radical measures to be considered by the Cabinet's Covid-O committee include making UK arrivals wear a GPS tag to ensure they are not leaving their quarantine accommodation, and making all arrivals pay to stay in hotels which they would not be allowed to leave for their 10-day period in isolation.
Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, and the Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove are understood to back tougher restrictions similar to those in Australia and New Zealand, which have travel bans on non-residents and "managed isolation" of any arrivals in approved accommodation.
However the Treasury, the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Department for International Trade (DIT) are said to be concerned about the potential damage from further restrictions, not only to the aviation and travel industries but also to the wider economy.
Another 1,290 deaths were reported on Thursday, with 37,892 people testing positive for the virus.
In a sign of the concern within Downing Street, Mr Johnson refused to rule out the lockdown continuing until the summer. He said: "It's too early to say when we'll be able to lift some of the restrictions."
The Prime Minister said an Imperial College London survey, published on Thursday, suggested infections had increased during the early part of the current lockdown – contrary to official figures that show them decreasing – and added: "There's no doubt it does spread very fast indeed."
He told people it was "absolutely crucial" to obey the restrictions "in what is unquestionably going to be a tough few weeks ahead".
Senior Cabinet ministers had been due to discuss a ban on foreigners entering the country at a Covid-O meeting on Friday, but that was pushed back at the last minute and will now take place over the weekend or early next week.
The agenda for the meeting, drawn up by the Covid-19 Secretariat based in the Cabinet Office, includes banning all foreign travellers from entering the UK, with limited exceptions such as hauliers.
One senior Government source claimed the idea had been rejected at a meeting of the committee last week, but had been forced back onto the agenda because there was strong support from some departments.
Supporters of a temporary ban on foreign residents argue that Britain must not squander the advantage it is gaining through the world-leading rollout of vaccines, particularly when there is little certainty over whether the vaccines will offer the same protection against new Covid variants which may emerge.
One source claimed it was "vanishingly unlikely" that Mr Johnson would agree to the idea, partly because so few people are crossing the border, all of whom could be dealt with using other restrictions.
Another option on the agenda is to scrap the option of being released from quarantine after five days if arrivals pay for another test that comes back negative.
The measures would come on top of the suspension of travel corridors and pre-departure tests for arrivals introduced on Monday to prevent the importation of new virus strains. Travel from Brazil and other countries with a high prevalence of a strain that originated in the Amazon has already been shut down, and further countries are likely to be added to the banned list.
One senior source who opposes the blanket ban on foreign travellers said: "If you have a total ban, the danger is that it would stay in place for the longer term as more variants emerge which could cause extensive economic damage. Australia and New Zealand have no obvious exit strategy. The Government would have to establish how you end the restrictions if you close the border to everyone."
There are fears the Foreign Office would also have to mount a global repatriation operation to return Britons stranded in countries they have been visiting, living or working in who could not get back with flights grounded by a travel ban.
A source said: "There are competing factions about shutting the whole thing down and having to get it restarted again."
On Thursday night, Ms Patel said: "It is far too early to speculate around restrictions such as... should people be booking a holiday. We have thousands of people still in hospital, pressures on the NHS. The advice is very clear – we are in a lockdown and the public should be staying at home.
"We have stringent measures for very good reason, because you want to protect the health of members of the public and also we want to make sure that we can deliver and safeguard this world leading vaccine rollout programme."
She refused to speculate about "quarantine hotels", but it is understood the Home Office is taking charge of the policy, with talks already under way with hotel groups including the Marriott and IHG which includes Holiday Inn.
In the House of Commons on Thursday former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who chairs the Commons health committee, urged ministers to introduce quarantine hotels and end household mixing with bubbles outside after warning the new variants were "massively more dangerous and harder to control than many realise."
Gloria Guevara, chief executive of the World Travel and Tourism Council, said: "The latest expected announcement from the UK government, which will force UK arrivals to quarantine in a hotel for up to two weeks at their own cost, will be a crushing blow to the ailing UK Travel & Tourism sector.
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