What you need to know about the UK’s new hotel quarantine rules for visitors

Heathrow has remained a hub throughout the pandemic.
Heathrow has remained a hub throughout the pandemic.
Image: REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
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Almost 10 months to the day after the UK first imposed a national lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus, British prime minister Boris Johnson is tightening the rules governing who is allowed in and out of the country, and where they must quarantine while there.

Already, a traveler coming into the UK must show proof of a negative test for Covid-19, fill out a form on arrival that allows authorities to contact them, and self-isolate in one place for 10 days. Until Jan. 18, many jobs qualified for full or partial exemptions from these rules, including journalists and businesspeople “bringing jobs and investment to the UK.” That list has since been reduced and will now be revised again.

Direct flights from 30 countries considered high-risk—the “red list“—remain banned, though British or Irish nationals, and people with UK residency, can still come into the UK from these countries as long as they connect through a country not on the red list. The new restrictions will require these travelers to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days (and pay for it themselves), while those who leave the UK will have to justify why they are leaving.

The UK has been less strict than many of its European neighbors in controlling travel throughout the pandemic. In a statement to Parliament today (Jan. 27), home secretary Priti Patel said the new rules are necessary because “there are still too many people coming in and out of our country each day.” The tightened restrictions will also require police to conduct more in-person checks on those meant to be self-isolating, and to patrol ports of entry to send people who are violating restrictions home.

Coronavirus deaths in the UK recently crossed a grim milestone of 100,000, the highest in Europe, and there’s some evidence that too many people in the country are flouting rules around self-isolation, social distancing, and quarantining. A pre-print of a study conducted by a post-doctoral researcher at King’s College London, which the government reviewed as part of its public health efforts, found that “self-reported adherence to test, trace, and isolate behaviors was low.” The government hopes these new measures will also help tackle that problem.

In Parliament today, Johnson said the Department of Health and Social Care will set up quarantine facilities “as quickly as possible.” The government is likely to rely on hotels that are close to airports and train stations, and to charge travelers a fee of around £1,000 ($1,368) for a 10-day stay.

Despite the new restrictions, airlines may be breathing easier: They faced the prospect of a blanket hotel quarantine mandate for all arrivals to the UK, a move industry executives cautioned would be dramatic for them and their workers. In December 2020, more than 1.1 million passengers (and 107,180 metric tonnes of cargo) flew through London’s Heathrow Airport. That’s nowhere near the normal levels of 6 million-plus passengers, but it’s not nothing either.