Hotel quarantine needs a “sunset clause” otherwise foreign travel could be destroyed for years, hotels and MPs have warned the Government.
They want ministers to spell out a clear exit strategy for the quarantine which will see an estimated 1,425 passengers a day from 33 “red list” countries required to self-isolate in Government-approved hotels at their own cost for ten days from February 15.
They fear the regime will decimate travel if it continues through the summer by deterring Britons from going abroad for fear their destination could be added to the “red list” of nations with new Covid variants, forcing them into quarantine hotels on their return.
They point to Australia and New Zealand, the models for quarantine hotels, which closed their borders at the start of the pandemic without any exit strategy and are set to maintain the restrictions into next year as new variants emerge to threaten the efficacy of vaccinations.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, which represents hotels, restaurants and bars, said the industry could not afford lengthy restrictions and said the UK as a travel hub should be treated very differently to Australia and New Zealand.
“As with all of these Covid measures, what we need from the Government is a clear phased plan to wind back the restrictions and reopen the economy,” she said. “The lack of an indicative exit strategy for these schemes is a major hindrance to business planning.”
Paul Charles, who helped set up Quash Quarantine, a campaign last year by 500 travel and hospitality businesses, said: “Hotel quarantine is hugely damaging without an end date or exit route because it suggests to business and leisure travellers this summer could be like last year with rapid changes in risk levels.
“You could be travelling somewhere that you think is low risk then the Government decides to make it a high risk destination which means you have to do hotel quarantine at your own cost.
“There has to be a reassessment of who would go into hotel quarantine and fundamentally it needs to be diluted and replaced by more regular testing. Testing regularly is the only solution to getting a balance between medical and economic needs.”
Henry Smith, the Tory MP who chairs the all-party Future of Aviation group, said: “I strongly support sunset clauses in regulations and restrictions particularly as the vaccine roll out is happening at pace and seems to be happening successfully.
“As the vaccine roll-out protects more and more people, it is important that hotel quarantine is seen as a temporary and targeted measure. Anything else does real damage to our aviation and hospitality industry and wider economy in the long term.”
Leaked Government contract documents revealed the Government was seeking up to reserve 28,000 rooms for an “initial” quarantine period from February 15 to March 31 with the hotels told to prepare subsequently for a rolling seven day notice period.
The Government is under pressure to go further from the devolved administrations and Labour who want hotel quarantine extended to all arrivals, including those outside “red list” countries.
Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, will this week announce all arrivals will be required to have Covid tests on the second and eighth day of quarantine – and scrap “test and release” which allowed people to leave self-isolation on the fifth day if they tested negative for Covid.
Minutes from the Government’s SAGE scientific advisers show they believe tougher border controls are more effective in combating the spread of the virus and new variants when domestic rates of the disease are low, raising fears that the travel restrictions will continue through the summer.