The health secretary has insisted there is no “delay” to the government setting out further details on its hotel quarantine plans, despite not confirming when such an announcement will be made.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News earlier that Matt Hancock would be setting out further details next week – not today, as had been suggested by the prime minister at Wednesday’s Downing Street news briefing.
Asked if this was indeed the case, the health secretary said: “Of course we’re working at pace to further strengthen the measures at the border, but we’ve already put in place isolation for everybody who arrives, wherever they come from in the world.”
Mr Hancock added that ministers “have been working to make sure that we get this right”.
Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds has criticised the “unacceptable delays” to the introduction of hotel quarantine in a letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel.
And in a tweet, he said the government’s “continued lack of decisive action” when it comes to coronavirus border security is “putting lives at risk and could potentially undermine vaccine progress”.
But Mr Hancock has insisted “there isn’t a delay, what there is is work to make sure that the border is always as secure as it needs to be”.
The health secretary also said he had talked to ministers in Australia on Thursday because they already have “quarantine hotels”.
Boris Johnson announced at the end of last month that UK residents and nationals arriving from more than 30 “red list” countries will have to quarantine for 10 days in government-provided accommodation.
Nations on the list include all of South America, southern Africa, Portugal and the United Arab Emirates – countries from where non-residents and nationals are already banned from entering the UK.
The announcement came after ministers removed all of the UK’s travel corridors, meaning everyone coming back into the country now has to self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of where they have come from.
People travelling to England also have to show they have tested negative for the virus within the last 72 hours.
How will hotel quarantine work in UK and how does it compare with other countries?
In addition, the PM has been stressing that under England’s national lockdown, it is currently “illegal to leave home to travel abroad for leisure purposes”.
The hotel quarantine policy is being introduced to avoid the importation of new variants of COVID-19, amid fears that they could impact upon the efficacy of vaccines.
However, a date for the implementation of mandatory quarantine has not been set, prompting criticism not just from Labour but also the travel industry.
The PM told a Downing Street news conference on Wednesday that the health secretary would be setting out further details in the Commons on Thursday.
But Number 10 later said this was not the case, leaving hotel bosses unimpressed.
Rob Paterson, chief executive of the Best Western hotel chain, told the BBC earlier that he is still “yet to understand exactly what protocols are required of the hotels”.
“To this day we simply haven’t heard anything, despite multiple offers,” he told Radio 4’s Today programme.
“We’ve got all these contacts in other countries that have already rolled this out for some time. They could offer some really valuable support and we’re just simply kept in the dark.”
Labour has been calling for the government to go further and make travellers arriving from all countries go into mandatory quarantine.
Since Mr Johnson’s announcement, it has emerged that the government’s scientific advisers warned that only mandatory hotel quarantines for all arrivals or a total border shutdown would keep COVID mutations at bay.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has accused the government of “chaos and confusion” over its quarantine plans.
“Surely, before you announce arrangements like this, you’d have done the planning beforehand,” he said on Thursday.
Sir Keir said the UK would be “back to square one” if a coronavirus variant which is resistant to existing vaccines makes its way into the country.