The government has declined to comment on suggestions its hotel quarantine regime could start on 15 February, stressing the measures would come into force "as soon as possible".
It comes after it emerged the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) warned on 21 January that "reactive, geographically targeted" travel bans, like those now being enforced by government, could not be relied on to guard against the import of new Covid-19 variants.
Sky News reports it put the 15 February date for hotel quarantine to Number 10, but was not given a firm answer; a 15 February start date would come the best part of a month after the policy was first aired by ministers.
Labour on Tuesday (2 February) renewed its call for tougher measures, with shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds branding the government’s border proposals "inadequate".
"The vaccine is giving great hope to all of us," he said. "What would put at threat the sacrifices the British people have made for many months is if a mutant strain of the virus emerged [and] threatened the efficacy of those vaccines.
"We have to do everything we can to try to prevent that from happening. The current government measures are not enough. They are inadequate."
It wasn’t until the week beginning 18 January that the first murmurings from government that an Australian-style hotel quarantine regime was under consideration emerged, with prime minister Boris Johnson on 22 January offering the greatest hint yet such a regime was on the cards.
Johnson and home secretary Priti Patel set out further details of the proposals last week, but no start date has yet been confirmed, despite suggestions from both the measures were crucial to protecting the UK against new Covid variants.
UK nationals and residents arriving from 33 countries, including much of South America and southern Africa as well as the UAE, will have to self-isolate for 10 days in a hotel upon their arrival from a yet-unspecified date – likely at their own expense, although again, government is yet to specify what proportion travellers will have to pay.
The government has said there will be some limited exemptions to the scheme, but these are yet to be detailed either. Arrivals will not be able to use test to release to shorted their 10-day self-isolation period.
One hotel operator, Oyo Hotels, has said that it is ready to work with government on the hotel quarantine regime. "We are well placed to provide convenient, affordable, sanitised accommodation for these purposes," said an Oyo spokesperson.
"We look forward to continuing to provide interim accommodation for those who need it over the challenging weeks ahead and hope to work with the government to meet this need."