The letter sent by Nick Thomas-Symonds, the Shadow Home Secretary, to Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, on 15 February 2021.
I write to raise serious concerns about the implementation of the hotel quarantine system.
It is already clear that the system appears to have serious implementation problems that risk the health of travellers, workers and the wider public. I also reiterate the Labour Party’s concerns that the failure to move to a comprehensive hotel quarantine system is leaving the doors open to emerging strains of the virus.
You will be aware that consistent concerns regarding the implementation of the limited measures being introduced have been raised by scientists, trade unions, airports and hotel groups.
As a result, there are a number of key questions I would be grateful if you could answer urgently:
– Can you outline what procedures to ensure that the strictest possible social distancing measures are in place at all airports? Furthermore, has it been established that additional measures are in place for those entering the UK from ‘red list’ countries?
– Trade unions and others have warned about the prospect of long lines of passengers waiting at the UK Border. What measures have been taken to ensure that travellers from ‘red list’ countries are isolated from other travellers and Border Force staff are kept safe?
– A Heathrow Airport spokesperson has been quoted as saying: “Some significant gaps remain and we are yet to receive the necessary reassurances. Ministers must ensure there is adequate resource and appropriate protocols in place for each step of the full end-to-end process from aircraft to hotel to avoid compromising the safety of passengers and those working at the airport.” Can you confirm that these gaps have all been identified and closed?
– What lessons have been learned from outbreaks emanating from hotel quarantine, for instance in Australia and how have they been fully mitigated against?
– Can you confirm that all of the hotel accommodation provided does everything possible to stop the spread of infections from quarantined travellers to hotel staff and fellow guests.
– It has been announced that 4,600 hotel rooms have been secured, and a further 58,000 rooms are on “standby”. Are the rooms on “standby” secured and, if required, how quickly can they be used for hotel quarantining?
We are now over a year in to this pandemic and other countries have had comprehensive quarantine policies in place for the vast majority of that time.
As a result, there are no excuses for the Government failing to have in place adequate planning for the UK’s hotels quarantine system. Instead, yet again, the steps taken are too little, too late.
I reiterate once again, that the UK needs a comprehensive hotel quarantine system, to do everything possible to stop strains of the virus reaching the UK and undermining the work of the vaccine. Failure to do so could put lives at risk.
It is unacceptable that even these limited quarantine measures appear to have so many flaws, which could put at risk the health of travellers, staff and the wider public.
The country will struggle to believe why the UK Government has failed to act decisively and competently on hotel quarantine. When people have been making such extraordinary sacrifices and taking hope from the vaccine rollout, it is unacceptable that the doors could be left open through such haphazard and inadequate protections at the border. The fatal flaws in the government’s half-baked hotel quarantine policy show why only a comprehensive system can work.
Nick Thomas Symonds MP
Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department