The Delay which ‘Put Lives at Risk’: Backlash over the Late Quarantine System

Do you need immigration help or advice?

Do you need immigration help or advice?

This comes as calls to close the borders, in a bid to stop the spread of the virus, disproportionately impacts migrants and those who have been impacted by immigration systems. The £1,750 hotel quarantine price also threatens to discriminate against families who live apart.

As a new variant of coronavirus emerges across the UK, Health Secretary Matt Hancock faces scrutiny over the delay in the hotel quarantine system.

Travellers arriving from red list countries migrants disproportionately affected by 10-day quarantine
Those travelling from a red-listed country have to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days. [Source]

The hotel quarantine system, for those entering the UK from red-listed countries, came into force on the 15th of February. It means that those travelling to the UK from one of 33 countries, must pay to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days.

The highly transmissible variant highlights the governments potential lack of planning.

The cost of the 10-day quarantine is £1,750 per adult.

Matt Hancock has previously been accused of not acting on the system sooner, with Labour stating this delay ‘put people’s lives at risk’.  

UK ministers have come to defend the delay, as The Foreign Office minister, James Cleverly, stated the delay was needed in order to inform the hotel industry of the plans. He told Sky News: ‘We’ve been working with international partners who put a similar package in place. It’s very easy for you to say, oh, all you have to do is… but hindsight is a wonderful thing.’

Bringing in new variants

Acting sooner could have prevented the newly discovered Brazilian variant from spreading so rapidly across the UK.

The highly transmissible variant highlights the government’s potential lack of planning. Along with a higher chance of spreading the variant if infected, it also shows signs that it can evade the immune system.

If hotel quarantine was enforced sooner, would we be dealing with another variant?

There are already six confirmed cases, one of which is unidentifiable due to an inaccurate form. In search of the person who tested positive but left no details, ministers are focusing on 379 households.

International travel sign saying 'no flights from terminal 3' at Heathrow Airport.
International travel is supposedly strictly monitored in order to control the spread of the virus. [Source]

The unknown person infected is understood to have used a home testing kit but did not complete their form properly. Alarmingly due to misinformation, the infected person will not know that they are infected.

This has led many to wonder; if hotel quarantine was enforced sooner, would we be dealing with another variant?

Labour leader Keir Starmer said the search for the infected person demonstrates the “slowness of the government to close off even the major routes. We have still not secured our borders in the way we should have done.”

The unbearable wait for families

International holidays are currently off-limits, so the majority of those entering the UK are either visiting for family emergencies, on business or immigrating to the UK. Although scientists argue the system is needed to ensure a limited spread of the virus, the system can potentially discriminate against those who are travelling for genuine emergencies.

One woman, from Portugal, has been trying to return to her home in England after visiting family. Constantly feeling like she is stuck she explained “travel is almost a privilege now: you have to be rich enough to pay for quarantine.”

The discriminatory price tag

The imposed hotel quarantine also seems to discriminate against migrants or those who have been affected by the immigration system, as it acts as an extra barrier. For some migrants, travel is the only possibility to be able to see their families, the new system takes away their chances to do so.

Migrants also face huge upfront costs, the current system allows those on income related benefits or people who can’t afford the upfront cost to pay the fee over 12 months. However, those who have no recourse to public funding, including migrants and international students will be required to pay the full amount of £1,750 upfront.

Some, including SAGE scientists, believe that the quarantine should apply to all of those coming in from overseas, currently, those who enter from a non-red list country are required to isolate at home for 10 days. Professor Kamlesh Khunti, chair of the ethnicity subcommittee branded the policy as ‘pointless’.

He said, “People could be coming through other countries and there are other variants cropping up all the time.

“If we had a blanket ban, we would know exactly where we stand. Border control has to be as tight as possible to ensure we are not letting anything through.”

There is an urgent need for travel restrictions and quarantine, hence why a majority of countries have implemented various restrictions. The World Health Organization says that restrictions of up to 90% of travel could delay the virus for as long as four months. However, a complete blanket ban on travel, regardless of circumstances, would disproportionately place migrants. Closed borders could potentially increase the number of illegal and dangerous travel routes taken out of desperation.

[Header Image: Adrian Dennis]