Britons facing 10-days of hotel quarantine after travelling abroad may be allowed out up to three days early under a new test-and-release scheme, it emerged today.
Although a final decision has yet to be made, ministers are keen to let travellers take tests on day five, potentially allowing those who prove negative to go home on days seven or eight.
Quarantine will apply to Brits who visited any of 30 countries on a “red list” of destinations within the previous 10 days, including Portugal, Brazil and South Africa. Travellers will be placed in budget hotels for a flat fee, expected to be around £600 covering food and accommodation.
“Countries will be added to the red list if we have concerns of a new mutation and anyone arriving will have mandatory quarantine,” said a source.
“Once our scientists are satisfied that any new strain is not vaccine resistant, they could be removed from the list.” Scientists at Porton Down will lead the recommendations.
Alarmingly, for those fearing 10 days of boredom in non-luxurious rooms without the freedom to interact with fellow guests, the Home Office has not yet decided whether Netflix and other entertainments will be part of the contract. Passengers cannot choose a different hotel.
The plan is designed to protect against new variants of coronavirus, such as the Brazil and South African strains, and was agreed by the Covid-O committee of senior ministers last night. It will take another two weeks for the Home Office to procure hotel deals before it can be launched.
The list of countries is based on the current “banned list” covering much of South America. Arrivals from other countries must abide by the existing quarantine rules, of 10 days at home.
Home Secretary Priti Patel will set out the details in the Commons this afternoon, her Cabinet colleague Robert Jenrick indicated.
But Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the move came too late and should be applied to more countries. He told BBC Breakfast: "We should have had comprehensive border controls in for the past year.”
He added: "I would urge the Government to look at a comprehensive policy, not just the hotspots because there will be countries where there are mutations which haven't been identified yet because they don't have the same level of scientific ability."
Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster said a four-nations approach to the issue was being taken, while the Welsh Government said it expects to discuss the plans with Westminster.
In Scotland, Deputy First Minister John Swinney said the Scottish Government would "go at least as far" as England in enhancing quarantine arrangements.