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Britain to start mandatory hotel quarantine for some arrivals starting Feb. 15

A woman receives COVID-19 vaccination
A woman receives her first COVID-19 vaccination in London on Thursday.
(Yui Mok / Press Assn.)

Everyone arriving in Britain from countries identified as coronavirus hotspots will have to spend 10 days in hotel quarantine starting Feb. 15 in a bid to stop new virus variants reaching the country, the government said Friday.

Authorities are facing criticism for delays in implementing the policy, which was first announced in late January.

Under the plan, British citizens and residents returning from high-risk countries — including South Africa and Brazil, where new coronavirus variants have surfaced — will have to quarantine in approved hotels near airports and seaports at their own expense. The hotels will be patrolled by security guards.

Most international travel to Britain is already banned under current restrictions to curb the spread of the virus, and arriving passengers must show a negative coronavirus test and self-isolate. Enforcement of the quarantine has been uneven, however.

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British officials say they have sought advice from Australia and New Zealand, where quarantine hotels are already in use to contain coronavirus spread.

The main opposition Labor Party said it was “beyond comprehension” that the policy was being implemented 50 days after a new, more transmissible strain of the virus from South Africa was first identified. Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labor’s spokesman on border issues, said the government was doing “too little, too late.”

Confusion over the terms ‘variant’ and ‘strain’ predate this coronavirus. It seems virologists never got around to defining their terms.

Some hotel chains said they were in talks with the government about taking part, but Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy the PC Agency, said others were concerned about their brand reputation being “tarnished” if they became associated with pandemic quarantines.

And Meher Nawab, chief executive of the London Hotel Group, questioned whether there was enough time to set up the system safely.

“To set all the processes up you need virologists to come and visit the property, you need to set up hygiene protocols — that can’t all be done overnight,” he told the BBC. “The ventilation system has to be looked at very closely. I’m not sure what [the government] has set out can be done in this time.”

Britain has experienced Europe’s worst coronavirus outbreak, with more than 110,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths. But it also has one of the world’s fastest-moving vaccination campaigns. So far almost 10.5 million people, or 20% of all adults, have received the first of two doses of a vaccine.

A coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa has reached the U.S., with two cases diagnosed in South Carolina

The government aims to have given a COVID-19 shot to 15 million people by Feb. 15, including everyone over 70 and those with underlying health conditions.

The government announced Friday that everyone over 50 in the U.K. should receive at least one dose by May, a vaccination schedule that means local elections across England could be held as planned May 6.

“Democracy should not be canceled because of COVID,” said Constitution Minister Chloe Smith.

The government said in-person voting could be held safely despite the pandemic, but voters would have to bring their own pencils or pens to mark their ballots.


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