A minister has blamed hotel quarantine not coming into force for another 10 days in England on needing more “time to prepare”, after Labour branded the delay “beyond comprehension”.
James Cleverly told Sky News that “hindsight is a wonderful thing”, as he faced questions about why the policy was announced on 27 January but will not apply to travellers until 15 February.
A date for the opening of government-provided accommodation for people arriving in the country from 33 “red list” countries
Several cabinet ministers had struggled to put a firm date on the change, but when the detail finally emerged Labour said the measures will “go nowhere near far enough to be effective in preventing further variants”.
At least 11 cases of the South African variant that scientists say vaccines are less but still effective against have been discovered across England with no links to travel, with further “mutations of concern” found in Bristol and Liverpool.
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Mr Cleverly, a Foreign Office minister, said there is already an “existing suite of measures” at the border to try to stop the import of new variants – like the passenger locator form and mandatory isolation upon arrival for 10 days.
“This is about enhancing that quarantine requirement,” he said, adding there is only “a very limited set of reasons people should be travelling at all”.
He added the government is talking to other countries including Australia and New Zealand to learn from their experience but that “doesn’t mean to say we will replicate what they do in every instance”.
Mr Cleverly did not deny the government will foot the bill for all people’s hotel quarantine stay.
And he dismissed the point raised by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer at PMQs that the policy should apply to all travellers – not just nationals and residents arriving in England – because in the first wave 0.1% of cases came from China while 62% came from France and Spain.
“Comparing what we’re doing now to what happened at the start is not that relevant,” said Mr Cleverly.
“We know a huge deal more now about where in the world the virus is prevalent.”
According to The Daily Telegraph, the project will cost the government £55m, which it will later try to recoup from travellers, as it plans to reserve 28,000 hotel rooms by 5pm this evening to accommodate 1,425 passengers a day.
The paper also said the scheme will run until at least 31 March and be reviewed every week after, with people quarantined for 11 nights and provided with three meals a day at a cost of up to £800 per person.
Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said it was “beyond comprehension” that the policy would not come into effect until 15 February.
“We are in a race against time to protect our borders against new COVID strains. Yet hotel quarantine will come in to force more than 50 days after the South African strain was discovered,” he said.
“Even when these measures eventually begin, they will not go nowhere near far enough to be effective in preventing further variants. As ever with this government, it is too little, too late.