LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will announce on Tuesday whether it will bring mandatory hotel quarantines for some or all of arrivals, the country’s coronavirus vaccination minister said as he warned the public against booking summer holidays.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was looking for options to introduce quarantine hotels for those coming to the UK to prevent the risk of a new “vaccine-busting” variant of the coronavirus entering the country.
Nadhim Zahawi, the minister in charge of launching the UK’s COVID-19 vaccination program, said details would be presented on Tuesday evening.
“The government is looking at, as the prime minister has confirmed, the hotel quarantine policy, and we will announce it in an appropriate manner,” he told BBC TV.
Interior Minister (interior minister) Priti Patel, whose department is responsible for border security, told parliament that the measures were under review and the government would not hesitate to take further action.
“It is wrong to speculate about any action that does not exist at the moment because policies are being developed,” Patel told lawmakers.
Britain has seen a sharp rise in infections and deaths in the new year, driven in part by the new, more highly contagious variant of the virus first identified in southeast England.
There are concerns about the impact of other strains found in South Africa and Brazil, and whether these variants might impact the effectiveness of the vaccines seen as key to Britain’s escape from its strict lockdown measures.
The country has the world’s fifth-worst death toll from the pandemic, with 98,531 people dying within 28 days of testing positive, and one of the deepest economic contractions on record. Official figures on Tuesday showed the unemployment rate had reached its highest level in nearly five years.
The BBC reports that new hotel quarantine requirements mean arrivals from large parts of South Africa and South America, as well as Portugal, must be isolated in hotels for 10 days.
It says “no definite decision yet” for those coming from other parts of the world. Johnson chaired a meeting with senior ministers on Tuesday, but it was unclear when the announcement would be made.
The measures, among Europe’s strictest if enforced, have alarmed the travel industry with UK-based airlines and airports warning that further tightening of the rules would be “catastrophic”.
The UK is currently banning most international travel, with flight volumes down 80% over 2019 and more than 45,000 jobs lost in the sector.
UK Airlines, which represents airlines including British Airways and easyJet, said in a statement with the country’s trade agency for airports that more restrictions could impact cargo movement, including PPE supplies, and more jobs could be lost.
“We have fully supported the government to do what is right in the face of this pandemic, but policies must be based on evidence and there must be a road map to get out of these restrictions as soon as it is safe,” they said.
In further worrying news for the industry, Zahawi said the public should not book holidays abroad this summer.
“There are still 37,000 people in hospital with COVID at this time, it is too early for us to speculate about summer,” he told Sky News.
Additional reporting by Paul Sandle, Sarah Young and Elizabeth Piper; editing by Estelle Shirbon and Ed Osmond