Covid hotel quarantine less strict than Australia’son February 12, 2021 at 9:44 am

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There are key differences in rules between England’s system and elsewhere, a BBC analysis shows.

A person stares out of a hotel window near Heathrow in west London in March 2020

image copyrightGetty Images

England’s hotel quarantine system could be less stringent than Australia’s scheme, a BBC analysis has found.

A copy of the government’s official requirements for hotel operators, ahead of its launch on Monday, showed rules were looser in several key areas.

In England, the rules allow guests time outside with security staff, seen in Australia as putting workers at risk.

Home Office minister Victoria Atkins said the rules would be “amongst the strongest in the world”.

She told the BBC those arriving from “red list” countries – deemed high-risk due to new virus variants – would face strict measures even before they departed for the UK.

The requirement to quarantine in a hotel applies to British and Irish citizens, and UK residents arriving in England from such countries – including Portugal, Brazil and South Africa.

In Scotland, all those arriving internationally by air will have to isolate in hotels.

The scheme begins on Monday at a cost of £1,750 for an individual.

It comes as Home Secretary Priti Patel urged people to “persevere” with England’s booking website, where travellers secure rooms and new mandatory tests, after it was hit by technical issues.

Ms Atkins told the BBC the measures would be “kept under review” and that the government was confident the rules “are strong”.

“We have some of the strongest border measures in the world and, as of Monday, with the introduction of the red list, these measures will be even stronger,” she told BBC Breakfast.

Asked about differences between England and Australia’s systems, including fewer restrictions on hotel guests’ movements for those in England, she said: “We are following the data in our own country and applying the measures that apply in our own country.”

“Our standards are amongst the strongest in the world,” she added.

International travel is currently banned, other than for a small number of permitted reasons, including for essential work, medical appointments and education. Holidays are not allowed.

BBC science editor David Shukman found the rules in England will be looser than Australia’s system, which is seen as among the best in the world.

A copy of the guidance for hotels in England’s system suggested:

  • Guests will be allowed access to fresh air outside, escorted by a security guard, whereas in Australia the view is that staff should not be put at risk by escorting people outside
  • There is no guidance on the timing of meal deliveries, potentially leading to cross-infections between guests as room doors are opened at the same time
  • Surgical masks will be required for staff, providing less protection than the masks required in Australia’s system

One Australian epidemiologist described allowing travellers quarantining in hotels to leave their rooms for fresh air as “very risky”.

Prof Michael Toole said there was evidence of transmission when guests opened doors, and “with the positive pressure this kind of fog of virus went out into the corridor, travelled down and infected hotel staff”.

It comes as the Australian state of Victoria enters a five-day “circuit breaker” lockdown in a bid to suppress an outbreak linked to its hotel quarantine system.

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Prof Nancy Baxter, of the University of Melbourne, said governments have a duty to protect those working inside quarantine hotel systems.

She said “there’s a duty of care that those people have the highest possible protection from infection”.

The UK has secured an initial 4,700 rooms for its quarantine system, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said.

He added that, at present, around 1,300 people arrive in the UK from red list countries, and that this figure is expected to fall much further.

The new system also introduces much tougher penalties, with avoiding quarantine in a designated hotel attracting a fine of between £5,000 and £10,000.

Anyone found to have falsified their travel history on the mandatory passenger locator form filled in on arrival risks up to 10 years in prison.

All international arrivals must book and pay in advance for two additional tests during their quarantine period, or face fines up to £2,000.

In a further development, government sources confirmed reports that countries could be added to the red list with just a few hours’ notice.

Rather than previous weekly reviews of travel corridor arrangements, there will now be a “fast track” system allowing ministers to quickly curb travel from virus hotspots.

Confusion around the prospect of summer holidays was sparked after Mr Shapps urged people not to book getaways for later in the year – either at home or abroad.

No 10 later said it was up to individuals whether they wanted to book potential future breaks, in view of the risk they may not take place due to coronavirus restrictions.

Downing Street has said Prime Minister Boris Johnson will unveil a roadmap for easing restrictions – potentially including travel – in the week beginning 22 February.

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