Health Secretary Matt Hancock also revealed that anyone caught lying to conceal visits to "red list" countries could face up to ten years in prison.
Britons flying home from countries like South Africa will have to pay £1,750 each for hotel quarantine and compulsory tests before they fly, it was revealed today.
The eye-watering charge will have to be paid in advance using an online booking form to cover accommodation, food and tests, and passengers will not even be allowed a choice of hotels.
It will apply to UK nationals coming back from any of 33 countries that are on a “red list” of places where mutant variants of Covid
-19 are on the rise.
Announcing the measures in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock also revealed that anyone caught lying to conceal visits to "red list" countries could face up to ten years in prison.
It does not affect foreign nationals because they are currently banned from travelling to the UK if they have been in “red list” countries which include Brazil, Chile and Peru.
Passengers from anywhere in the world will have to take a total of three tests for Covid
-19 at their own expense — one before departure and two while in quarantine at home.
There will be hefty new fines for anyone who breaches quarantine regulations, including a £1,000 penalty for failing to take a test on time.
The new regime is designed to protect the UK more effectively from Covid
coming in from abroad — especially the risk of mutant strains emerging that might beat the current generation of vaccines
Holidays are not currently allowed but if a family had to fly home together from living abroad the costs would be painfully high, with hotel quarantine coming to £7,000 for a group of four.
The extra tests for people coming from destinations that are not on the red list would also add up to a large bill. With full lab tests costing around £120 each in the private sector, three tests per person would come to £360 each, or £1,440 for a family of four.
A travel industry figure said that making people pay for so many tests would “kill travel”.
The Government has signed contracts with 16 hotels so far. All are said to be in a mid to low-price range and passengers will have to take whatever is offered.
In return for their fee they will be transported by bus from the airport arrivals zone to their hotel and told they must not leave until quarantine is over.
There is no indication yet whether similar rules on tests or quarantine will apply once holidays abroad are allowed again. Last year there were “travel corridors” to popular destinations with similar Covid
levels to the UK but Government sources say it is “too soon” to say if these will be repeated.
At present travel is only allowed for “essential” reasons and leisure does not count. “It’s an open question,” said an official. “The important thing is that all these measures will protect the UK against new variants and against wider transmission of Covid
“The red list is for countries where there is high concern — and for any countries to come off that we would need to see more data to prove there is no prevalence of these strains.”
An optional fourth test may be taken by passengers wishing to use the “test and release” scheme to cut short quarantine after eight days instead of the usual 10. The rules come into force on February 15 but the online booking system will be available from Thursday to reserve and pay for hotels, with one flat-rate price for all.
Derek Jones, of travel company Kuoni, welcomed the plan to test arriving travellers. “As we have said all along, a robust testing regime is the way to open up travel again but it has to replace or at least shorten quarantine. That’s the way to get travel moving again.”
Labour has criticised the decision to have hotel quarantine for only red-listed countries, saying stricter rules were needed for all passengers.
Paul Charles, chief executive of the travel consultancy The PC Agency, who speaks for Quash Quarantine, said: “If you’re having to pay for three tests as a passenger, that will obviously, kill off travel. That will stop anybody really even if they have to make an essential trip from coming back into the UK.”
He added: “It’s clear we have entered a new phase where the Government wants to squeeze border entry and exit completely by adding these layers of complexity.” In key developments
Some MPs are urging the Government to ease lockdown using a tiered system as cases are falling quicker in London, which was hardest hit by the second wave, than all other regions.
Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine
Group, sought to reassure people worried about the mutant strains. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I don’t think that there is any reason for alarm. All developers are preparing new vaccines
, so, if we do need them, we’ll have them available to be able to protect people.”
A total of 126,023 deaths had occurred in the UK by January 29 where Covid
-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, the Office for National Statistics said. London saw 1,265 Covid
-19 deaths registered in the week to January 29, down 135 from the previous week.
The new figures suggest the second wave of deaths in the UK hit a peak in the third week of January.
A total of 1,404 deaths involving Covid
-19 occurred on January 19, according to data from the ONS.
This was the highest daily death toll in the second wave so far. Since January 19, the daily toll has not been above 1,300. The totals, including January 19, are likely to be revised upwards once all remaining deaths have been registered for January.