The UK’s tougher new travel rules to contain the spread of Covid-19 variants came into effect from Monday, involving compulsory hotel quarantines for anyone returning to England from one of the 33 high-risk “red list” countries.
Those arriving will have to pre-book and pay 1,750 pounds to spend 10 days quarantining in government-sanctioned hotels, covering the cost of the hotel, transport, and two separate tests post-arrival. Extremely serious breaches of the new norms could result in a 10-year jail term and fines of up to 10,000 pounds.
Those who have not visited a “red list” country, such as India, must still quarantine for 10 days at home and complete two mandatory Covid-19 tests on the second and eighth day after arriving.
“With the emergence of new variants, we must go further. The rules coming into force today will bolster the quarantine system and provide another layer of security against new variants at the border,” said UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
“These new measures are important to protect our vaccination programme, which has now seen 15 million people vaccinated, we all work towards restoring normal life,” he said.
Starting Monday, any UK or Irish resident who has been in a high-risk destination on the UK’s red list – comprising 33 hotspots with Covid-19 variants in circulation – will have to enter England through a designated port and have pre-booked a quarantine package to stay at one of the government’s “Managed Quarantine Facilities”.
Non-residents are currently not part of the essential-only travel rules of the coronavirus lockdown.
The government said it has tough measures already in place requiring all travellers into the UK, from any location, to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken no more than three days before departure, and non-UK residents from the 33 red list countries are already banned from entering Britain.
New regulations equipping the Border Force and police staff with the powers needed to ensure people arriving in England conform to the new rules have also been put in place.
The Border Force have the power to issue fixed penalty notices to individuals suspected of lying on their Passenger Locator Form and where necessary detain them for up to three hours.
As part of the regulations, a requirement for quarantining individuals to self-isolate in their room is set out in law. There will also be a visible security presence at the Managed Quarantine Facilities to ensure that people are obeying these rules.
The government has struck deals with 16 hotels so far, providing 4,963 rooms for the new quarantine system, with a further 58,000 rooms currently on standby.
Passengers can book their rooms through an online portal in advance of arrival in England. Those who fail to quarantine in such hotels face fines of 5,000 to 10,000 pounds, while anyone who lies on their passenger locator form about having been in a country on the red list faces a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
All hotel staff will be fully trained in Covid-secure practices, and all contractors have been instructed to ensure their facilities and services are provided in a Covid-secure way. This includes plastic shields and PPE where necessary.
Heathrow Airport is one of five in England where people requiring hotel quarantine can enter the UK and is expected to receive the largest number of passengers. The other four are Gatwick, London City, Birmingham, and Farnborough.
The devolved regions are also following similar strict rules for arrivals from red list countries, which include countries which have shown a high occurrence of new variants of coronavirus such as South Africa.
Non-essential travel remains banned under the UK’s strict lockdown to contain the very high coronavirus infection rate as the vaccination programme is accelerated. There are reports that anyone leaving the UK will soon after be questioned about their reason for travel.