England’s Covid border measures under strain before rollout

Quarantine hotel booking system still down and doubts cast on passenger testing regime

A member of the cleaning staff cleans surfaces as she prepares a room for a guest at the St Giles Hotel, near Heathrow Airport in west London. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty

A member of the cleaning staff cleans surfaces as she prepares a room for a guest at the St Giles Hotel, near Heathrow Airport in west London. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty

 

The UK government’s new border regime to tackle Covid-19 came under increasing strain on Friday, with its quarantine hotel booking system down for a second day and private providers querying the passenger testing system.

Anyone arriving in England from 33 high-risk countries will from Monday have to book into a government-approved hotel to self-isolate under supervision for 10 days, in response to growing concern that dangerous variants of Covid-19 could be imported from abroad.

But the government booking website went down shortly after its launch on Thursday afternoon and was still offline almost 24 hours later.

A message said that due to a “minor technical issue”, the system would not be available until “later today”, the same message as when it first broke on Thursday.

A government spokesperson said on Friday the portal should be “back up and running” on Friday.

The technical problems are the latest blow to a policy that has been criticised by some parts of the Conservative Party and from within the travel industry.

There have also been questions over whether passengers will be properly isolated once they arrive in hotels for their 10-day, £1,750 stays.

Allowed outside

Passengers would be allowed outside to exercise or smoke with permission from on-site security, although this was not guaranteed, the government booking system said. People will also be able to attend court or to leave the country.

When questioned why the government had chosen not to implement as strict measures as Australia, a spokesperson for UK prime minister Boris Johnson said: “The rules are in line with other countries who are taking this approach.”

And in response to concerns that hotel staff enforcing the policy will not have access to routine testing, the spokesperson said: “Strict hygiene and infection control measures will be in place, all staff will be fully trained in Covid secure practices.”

The current policy applies only to England, although the Welsh and Northern Irish devolved administrations are expected to implement similar rules. The Scottish government has indicated it will go further and require all people arriving from any country outside the UK’s common travel area with Ireland to go into the hotel quarantine system. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021