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The government has released new details about its hotel quarantine policy. But how does the scheme work in practice, what does it cost and how do you administer it?
Starting February 15, all passengers arriving in England from 33 so-called 'red list' countries will be quarantined for ten days in special hotel accommodation in an effort to limit the spread of dangerous new Covid-19 variants.
Government guidelines on what the quarantine entails are published on Thursdayalthough the booking hub crashed shortly after and is still unavailable at the time of writing.
It comes after the safe travel corridor policy was dropped earlier this year, with a travel ban to prevent non-UK residents from traveling to the country from higher risk countries.
Until now, all newcomers to the UK, including those from high-risk countries, had to isolate for 10 days, but were allowed to do this at home.
Under the new rules, all UK or Irish nationals or UK residents returning from high-risk countries must book a 10-day "quarantine package" prior to arrival.
But just days before the restrictions take effect, the system is plagued by technical problems and criticism of "risky" practices.
What is a quarantine package?
Ministers have entered into agreements with several hotel chains to provide specially managed quarantine accommodation to those arriving in the UK, instructing travelers to book so-called "quarantine packages" before arriving.
Each package includes the price of the rooms, meals during the stay and transport from the airport to the accommodation.
The package also includes two mandatory Covid-19 tests to be administered on Day 2 and Day 8 of the quarantine period.
Those who test positive on day 2 of their quarantine will not undergo further testing, but must remain for 2 more days.
For those who test positive on day eight, an additional ten days of quarantine will be required for their entire group, but ministers have not yet set out whether or how this could affect the cost of the quarantine packs.
And even in the case of a negative test, travelers cannot end their quarantine early.
Travelers have been informed that they must have already booked their stay before completing their Passenger Locator Form and before embarking on their journey to the UK.
The deals already agreed with hotels will provide 4,600 rooms across England for the quarantine measures, but ministers have not disclosed how many have already been booked or what will happen when capacity is reached.
Officials were struggling to implement the policy after it was revealed on Monday that they had not signed any contracts with hotels.
What does it cost?
Each pacakge costs £ 1,750 based on 1 adult staying in a room for eleven nights. An additional adult or child over 12 years old will be charged an additional charge of £ 650 or £ 325 for children aged 5-12. There are no additional costs for children under 5 years old.
This means that for a family of 4 with two teenagers, the total cost of the quarantine package will be £ 3,700 in addition to the cost of their flights.
For those facing "significant financial difficulties", the government will allow a deferred repayment plan to be introduced, with costs spread over 12 months.
But the deferred payment plan will only be available to those already entitled to income-related benefits, the directive says, with fines for those who apply for the emergency fund and who are not eligible.
Ministers have already indicated that the price of the packages will be revised in March and that the costs may change.
How do you book an arrangement?
Currently the hotel booking system is broken as it collapsed shortly after going live earlier this week.
While some hotels offer their own so-called quarantine packages directly on their websites, passengers from & # 39; red list & # 39; countries have to book through the centralized government system, which has experienced significant outages.
Ministers have repeatedly stated that the service should return to service soon, but as the 10am deadline for the portal's resumption on Friday morning has already been missed, it is unclear when passengers will be able to book.
But with less than 72 hours before the scheme starts, the technical issues have resulted in some travelers having their reservations blocked.
In defense of the policy, Interior Minister Priti Patel said the portal was a "new website" and insisted that the plan would be "operational" by Monday.
She told LBC radio, “This is not an arrangement that can go into effect overnight.
"The logistics are actually quite something."
Where does it apply?
Under the rules, those eligible for the quarantine policy are instructed to enter the country through a small list of airports, mainly London-based.
Currently these are: Heathrow Airport, Gatwick Airport, London City Airport, Birmingham Airport, Farnborough Airfield.
Although the government said other entry points may be added in the future, they have told people with bookings to other airports that it is "your responsibility to change it to any of the entry ports listed above".
In an effort to crack down on travelers from third countries, airlines have been ordered to deny travel to anyone who has been on a red list in the past ten days unless they arrive at one of the designated airports.
Travelers arriving in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will face similar restrictions, but they have been said to contact the decentralized governments to see how the plans are being implemented.
What can I do during the quarantine period?
The rules surrounding the quarantine period are strict, telling travelers to stay in their rooms for the ten-day period and having meals delivered to them by hotel staff.
However, there are some limited conditions that allow people to leave quarantine. Aside from obvious instances where there is a real medical emergency or danger of illness or injury, the directive says there will be other exceptions for those who have legal obligations, including attending court or meeting conditions for bail.
Exercise exemptions may be allowed, but only with "special permission" from hotel staff or security, and the guidelines warn that this is "not guaranteed" in all cases.
But the waivers have been scrutinized by some of the medical experts who have tried it guidelines for hotel staff reported by the BBC who could see that guests were allowed to leave their rooms to get fresh air or to smoke.
Home Secretary Victoria Atkins defended the policy on Friday, saying it was "reasonable" for people to leave their rooms.
She said, "I think someone should get a sip of fresh air on a 10 day visit to a hotel, with all the very strict measures we have, I think it is reasonable – but of course we will keep these measures in mind. . "
Special exemptions will also apply to those dealing with domestic violence that takes place “within a group that has been quarantined together”.
What happens if I refuse to quarantine or run tests
Ministers have announced a series of severe penalties for those who fail to comply with quarantine regulations.
Travelers attempting to circumvent quarantine regulations by providing false information on their entry form have been warned that they could face fines of up to £ 10,000, imprisonment for up to 10 years, or both.
Even those arriving through a designated gate but who have not booked a quarantine package will be fined up to £ 4,000 and will still have to pay for the package upon arrival.
Those who violate quarantine regulations, including by leaving their quarantine facility early, are threatened with fines of up to £ 10,000.
A further fine of up to £ 2,000 can be imposed on those who refuse to take the mandatory tests required during quarantine.
But the strict policies have already come under fire from MPs and legal experts, with former Attorney General Dominic Grieve saying it was & # 39; absurd & # 39; was that ministers planned to use a 40-year-old counterfeit law as the legal basis to threaten travelers with 10 years in prison for lying on their admission forms
Who is exempt?
Like other recent travel restrictions, the quarantine policy describes a number of people exempt from following the rules.
These include carriers arriving from Portugal, one of the countries on the red list, provided they can prove that the trip is related to their work.
Military and defense personnel and government inspectors working on critical defense activities are also exempted with direct approval from the Department of Defense.
The same exemption applies to UK border officials who would be doing work during the period they would otherwise be quarantined.
Special authorizations will also be granted to diplomats and their families, as well as other representatives of foreign governments and international organizations, provided they have permission from the UK Foreign Office or senior members of their own government.