Matt Hancock has finally revealed the government’s plans for hotel quarantine for UK residents arriving from Covid hotspots, which include severe penalties for those who don't comply.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday, the health secretary also detailed plans for an "enhanced testing" regime for all international travellers arriving in the UK.
Those who have come from 33 “red list” countries where there is high prevalence of new Covid-19 variants will have to pay £1,750 for a hotel quarantine package that includes a room, transport and testing for 10 days.
Hancock also announced an increase in punishments for those breaking the rules, with fines of up to £10,000 for failing to quarantine in a hotel when required to, and anybody who “tries to conceal that they've been in a country on the red list in the 10 days before arrival here will face a prison sentence of up to 10 years”.
Due to come into force from next Monday, 15 February, Hancock told the Commons that so far 16 hotels have signed up to the scheme, which means a total of 4,600 rooms.
For those arriving from countries not included on the "red list", the cabinet minister confirmed people will now require three tests. In addition to the one required 72 hours before arrival, travellers will now need to take another two tests while in self-isolation.
"Every passenger must demonstrate a negative test result 72 hours before they travel to the UK and every passenger must quarantine for 10 days,” Hancock said.
"Arriving in this country involves a two-week process for all.”
He added: "Passengers will have to book these tests through our online booking portal before they travel. Anyone planning to travel to the UK from Monday needs to book these tests and the online portal will go live on Thursday.
"If either of these post-arrival tests comes back positive, they'll have to quarantine for a further 10 days from the date of the test and will of course be offered any NHS treatment that's necessary."
On the 33 red list countries, Hancock added: "We're setting up a new system of hotel quarantine for UK and Irish residents who've been in red list countries in the last 10 days.
“In short, this means that any returning residents from these countries will have to quarantine in an assigned hotel room for 10 days from the time of arrival.
"Before they travel, they'll have to book through an online platform and pay for a quarantine package costing £1,750 for an individual travelling alone which includes the hotel, transport and testing.
“This booking system will go live on Thursday when we'll also publish the full detailed guidance.
"Passengers will only be able to enter the UK through a small number of ports that currently account for the vast majority of passenger arrivals.
“When they arrive, they'll be escorted to a designated hotel which will be closed to guests who aren't quarantining, for 10 days or for longer if they test positive for Covid-19 during their stay.
"We've contracted 16 hotels for an initial 4,600 rooms and we will secure more as they are needed.
“People will need to remain in their rooms and of course will not be allowed to mix with other guests and there will be visible security in place to ensure compliance alongside necessary support, so even as we protect public health we can look after the people in our care."
Announcing the new fines the health secretary said: "People who flout these rules are putting us all at risk.
"Passenger carriers will have a duty in law to make sure that passengers have signed up for these new arrangements before they travel, and will be fined if they don't, and we will be putting in place tough fines for people who don't comply.
"This includes a £1,000 penalty for any international arrival who fails to take a mandatory test, a £2,000 penalty for any international arrival who fails to take the second mandatory test, as well as automatically extending their quarantine period to 14 days.
“And a £5,000 fixed penalty notice - rising to £10,000 - for arrivals who fail to quarantine in a designated hotel."
He added: "Anyone who lies on the passenger locator form and tries to conceal that they've been in a country on the red list in the 10 days before arrival here will face a prison sentence of up to 10 years.”
But Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the measures still do not go far enough and the British public wants tougher border quarantine measures.
In reply to Hancock, he said: "He's announced a detailed package today but he hasn't announced comprehensive quarantine controls at the borders.
So why then when over half of the countries where the South Africa variant has been identified – why are over half of them not on the so-called red list?"
Ashworth also called for greater financial support for those who need to self-isolate, adding: "A positive test is not just a medical blow but a financial one as well.
“Last Tuesday he boasted of the £500 payment, yet over 70% of applications for financial support are rejected.
"By Wednesday his own head of Test and Trace was pointing out that 20,000 sick people a day don't isolate and indeed two months earlier Dido Harding had already said people aren't self-isolating because they find it very difficult.
“The need to keep earning and feeding your family is fundamental."
The full "red list" of countries is as follows:
- Cape Verde
- Democratic Republic of Congo
- French Guiana
- Portugal (including Madeira and the Azores)
- South Africa
- United Arab Emirates (UAE)
Alain Tolhurst is chief eeporter at CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared.