After seven months, the UK is set to remove its latest hotel quarantine requirements for inbound travelers. Boris Johnson’s Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps has noted the rules will be removed entirely on November 1.
Originally introduced during the UK’s harsh winter shutdown, the policy required 10-day hotel quarantines for all travelers returning from certain ‘red list’ countries with high COVID case rates. The system was based on a study of similar patterns in New Zealand and elsewhere. Residents received three daily meals and supervised exercise breaks; they could order food or have packages delivered, but in-person visits were prohibited.
Some of the participating hotels cost less than $ 80 a night, but “guests” had to shell out $ 2,413 for their stay, with the extra money covering food, security, and two mandatory PCR tests. In August, the fee was increased to $ 3,156, a measure intended to deter “red list” trips.
It is not only the cost that has inflated over time, the destinations affected as well. In February, when the British vaccination program was further accelerating, the red list included 33 countries considered “at high risk”. By the summer, it had spread to dozens more, including India, Turkey, Pakistan, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
Having initially criminalized all “Non-essential overseas travel in January, the UK government hoped the hotel quarantine would be part of a traffic light system meant to help open borders. Countries would be designed in either green (no quarantine), orange (home quarantine required), or red (hotel quarantine). In practice, the scheme was confused, with changes often heralded in short jostle to come back to avoid quarantine restrictions.
The government has not apologized for any disruption or confusion. As Britain entered its summer holiday season, Boris Johnson was Warning that he would not hesitate to make a country go from green to red. Anyone who lies about their visit to a Red List country after indirect return could face 10 years in prison.
Until the end of September, around 200,000 people were forced to undergo quarantine of hotels.
How were the quarantines? Weeks after going live, the system faced routine complaints from residents who spoke out about poor food quality, lack of fresh air, and uncomfortable rooms. In August, the BBC broadcast pictures recorded by quarantined residents showing slugs and mold in their rooms.
Other serious complaints have included allegations of sexual harassment by security guards and sick and disabled residents being refused major medical treatment. Cultural errors have also appeared, as with the hotel which had to apologize for serving pork meals to Muslim guests.
The scheme has also come under fire for hypocrisy, such as when VIP delegates to this summer’s European football tournament were granted an exemption. The government continued in to deploy themselves a similar exemption for professional football players traveling to matches in countries redlisted for the September World Cup qualifiers.
The end of the hotel quarantine follows a broader easing of travel rules in the UK (and three months after national restrictions were lifted). A decision to relax “testing” requirements on vaccinated travelers (who are no longer required to purchase PCR tests), for example, was confirmed earlier this month. The red list was reduced to seven countries, all concentrated in Central America or South America. Some of the remaining seven countries on the red list include Colombia, Haiti and Venezuela.
Downing Street’s decision to drop hotel quarantines may be linked to the upcoming COP 26 climate change conference in Glasgow. The government had previously suggested, for example, that it would reduce the quarantine time of delegates and even pay their fees. The minister organizing the summit, for his part, been exempt from the rules for months. Eliminating quarantine requirements reduces the risk of a political backlash for double standards.
The end of this miserable policy will be greeted by many detractors of The authoritarianism of COVID. But don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet: even as he announced the change, Transportation Secretary Shapps stress that the program would remain on ice, ready to be replayed if another worrying COVID variant emerged.