British holidaymakers returning home won’t escape an order to quarantine in airport hotels – signalling the death knell for summer getaways.
Ministers are finalising plans to force travellers to isolate for ten days as soon as they enter Britain, with details to be decided tomorrow.
Boris Johnson had wanted to exempt British residents and only target those arriving from places where new strains of the virus have been detected.
But Cabinet sources last night said they expect the Prime Minister to sign off on a comprehensive proposal – modelled on Australia – that will see all arrivals sent to airport hotels, regardless of their nationality and where they have come from.
It means people who live in Britain will face having to pay extra, on top of the cost of their trip, to spend their quarantine period in a hotel patrolled by security guards.
Any new restrictions would be a further blow to the beleaguered travel industry – and could spark chaos at airports already battling through new arrivals checks.
Queues of people were seen waiting to clear passport control on Friday and Saturday while Border Force agents checked each person’s locator form and negative PCR test.
In another Covid news day:
- The UK reported a further 30,004 Covid cases, down almost a quarter on last Sunday, and 610 more deaths today;
- It was another record day for vaccinations with 491,970 first doses and 1,043 second doses;
- Mr Hancock revealed that as of this morning three quarters of the over-80s have been vaccinated;
- The UK has detected 77 cases of the South African variant of Covid and nine cases of one of the Brazilian variants;
- Nicola Sturgeon faces fury for ramping up her independence drive during the pandemic as she threatened to hold a referendum without Boris Johnson’s agreement – and SNP MPs said they are ‘focused on undermining the union’;
- Nursing leaders have called for higher-grade face masks to be given to staff to protect them against highly transmissible strains of coronavirus.
British holidaymakers will be forced to isolate for ten days as soon as they enter Britain under new plans being drafted by ministers. Pictured: Passengers wait in queues at Heathrow Airport
Boris Johnson had wanted to exempt British residents but Cabinet sources last night said they expect the Prime Minister to sign off on a comprehensive proposal
Blasting the hotel quarantine move, Paul Charles, chief executive of travel company The PC Agency, told the Mail: ‘This is destroying confidence among holidaymakers.
‘People are not booking summer holidays because they don’t believe there is an end game which will see these blanket measures removed.
‘This is a sure-fire way of destroying Britain’s aviation and travel industries.’
It came as Matt Hancock ramped up the Cabinet war over border restrictions last night as he suggested a blanket ban on all arrivals may still be needed.
The Health Secretary warned it is ‘absolutely critical’ Britain is protected from new mutant strains of the virus that might not respond to the vaccine.
Mr Hancock, who is one of the ministers who has been pushing for stronger measures, yesterday said that all 77 cases of the South African coronavirus variant detected in the UK have been linked to travellers.
There was also another record-breaking day for vaccinations, with a further 491,970 people have their first dose, bringing the total up to 6.3million. The government have set a target of just under 14million jabs by mid-February
The plans will see all arrivals sent to airport hotels, regardless of their nationality and where they have come from. Pictured: Beach goers enjoy the sunshine at Nova Icaria beach in Barcelona amid the coronavirus pandemic
Matt Hancock warned it was ‘absolutely critical’ Britain was protected from new mutant strains of the virus
A further nine cases of the Brazilian variant have also been picked up here but, again, none were linked to community transmission.
The Health Secretary said the new strains ‘I really worry about’ are the ones that have not yet been spotted, as he suggested measures targeted only at people arriving from specific areas would not be enough.
Ravers fined thousands over illegal bashes
Hundreds of partygoers were fined at the weekend after hiding in closets and even a tent in a bid to escape officers.
Scotland Yard handed out more than £15,000 in fines after 300 people were caught breaking Covid rules at an east London rave underneath a railway arch at 1.30am yesterday.
Organisers had padlocked doors from the inside to prevent officers gaining entry, with dozens scaling fences to dodge police.
A total of 78 people were issued with £200 fixed penalty notices for attending the illegal gathering.
It comes after the Met revealed on Saturday that two officers were injured as they broke up a 200-strong party in Beauchamp Place near Harrods at about 3.30am on January 1.
In Birmingham, police found revellers in cupboards when they broke up a party attended by over 50 students on Friday. And Lincolnshire Police fined eight campers from different households partying in a one-man tent in Woodhall Spa.
Asked whether there should be an absolute blanket ban on people coming into this country, Mr Hancock told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme: ‘We have got to have a precautionary principle.
‘We’ve introduced pre-departure testing… but it is absolutely vital that we protect this country from a new variant that may not be as well dealt with by the vaccine. We cannot risk the progress that we’ve made.’
Appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, he added: ‘The argument has changed and the conversation around borders has changed because of two things.
‘One, the new variants and two, the success of the vaccine rollout programme, which means that we cannot put all of this progress at risk.’
Mr Hancock suggested that the public would not be issued with vaccine passports for use at home, but appeared to concede that they may be needed in future for overseas travel.
Meanwhile, Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy said yesterday that Labour had been ‘pushing the Government to take tougher measures at the border since last spring’.
She told Marr: ‘Scientists tell us that there are a number of countries where these strains are emerging that just simply do not have the capacity to map what is happening.’
A poll of 1,109 adults by Opinium on behalf of campaign group One Rule For Them last night showed 79 per cent think there should have been stricter border controls far earlier.
Ministers hope the new move will improve compliance with existing quarantine rules.
On Saturday, Heathrow Airport claimed it ‘isn’t possible’ for people to socially distance in its terminals as travellers blasted the long queues at passport control.
Shocking images shared to social media showed hundreds of travellers – including children and the elderly – waiting in lines.
Witnesses said the queues took at least an hour to clear as Border Force officers checked each passenger’s proof of a negative PCR test and their locator form.
The Home Office has insisted they have ‘the necessary staff’ needed to get through the hoards of passengers – and claim it is ‘ultimately up to individual airports to ensure social distancing on site.’
Travellers returning to the UK have blasted long queues (pictured on Saturday) at Heathrow passport control as the airport claims it ‘isn’t possible’ for people to socially distance in its terminals
But Heathrow Airport said Border Force are responsible for the checks, and claim ‘social distancing in an airport environment isn’t really possible’.
Sharing a picture of the queues at Heathrow Airport on Saturday, Rav wrote: ‘I’m predicting a good hour to get through the UK Border at Heathrow this morning. E-gates offline, presumably for Covid tests and passenger locator form checks.’
Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis also shared a picture of the busy passport control area in Heathrow Airport- which she later deleted.
The caption read: ‘200 plus British passport holders queuing to get home (in constricted space).’
Shocking images shared to social media on Saturday showed hundreds of travellers – including children and the elderly – waiting in lines
Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis shared a picture of the busy passport control area in Heathrow Airport (pictured) – which she later deleted
The caption read: ‘200 plus British passport holders queuing to get home (in constricted space)’
Clare Rathsack shared a picture of a queue in Terminal 2, writing: ‘Ridiculous. So few flights and complete chaos at T2 border control. Sort it out.’
In response to mounting concern over the large queues, a Heathrow Airport spokesperson told Sky News: ‘We’ve been clear since last May that social distancing in an airport environment isn’t really possible.
‘To put that in context, if you had one aircraft of let’s say 300 people, you’d need a queue about 1km long to socially distance just one aircraft, which is why last summer we mandated face coverings in the airport.’
A Government spokesperson earlier said: ‘We are in a national lockdown to protect the NHS and save lives. People should not be travelling unless absolutely necessary.
‘You must have proof of a negative test and a completed passenger locator form before arriving.
‘Border Force have been ramping up enforcement and those not complying could be fined £500.
‘It’s ultimately up to individual airports to ensure social distancing on site.’
Heathrow said that ‘Border Force is currently experiencing some delays’ getting through the passenger checks, and the airport has measures to remind people of what rules are in place.
- Israel is ‘closing the skies’ to prevent a fast-spreading or vaccine-resistant form of Covid entering the country. The measure was due to last until January 31, when its national lockdown is set to be eased.
Pubs and restaurants could stay shut until JULY as councils are given power to extend lockdown rules
By James Robinson for MailOnline
Pubs and restaurants could stay closed until July after Government chiefs chose to extend the lockdown powers given to councils.
The specially-created powers, which give local authorities in England the ability to close venues and tape-off public areas due to coronavirus, were due to expire next week.
But in a blow to millions of Britons hoping for a summer of reduced restrictions, Government chiefs have now extended the laws until mid-summer, reports the Daily Telegraph.
The move does not mean lockdown has been extended. But it does mean the powers are in place should the Government decide to push back its current lockdown timetable.
Boris Johnson set a mid-February target for lifting restrictions when announcing the third-national lockdown earlier this month.
But the Prime Minister appeared to pour cold water on hopes of a mid-February easing of lockdown earlier this week, by saying it was ‘too early to say’ when restrictions could be lifted.
Meanwhile, Downing Street refused to rule out the possibility of the current lockdown stretching beyond the spring and into summer.
The remarks came after frustrated Tory backbenchers called on the Government to release its road-map out of lockdown – as the UK’s vaccine roll-out total hit more than five-million.
The specially-created powers, which give local authorities in England the ability to close venues such as pubs (pictured: Library image) and tape off public areas, were due to expire next week.
The move does not mean lockdown has been extended, but means the powers are in place should the Government decide to push back its current timetable. Pictured: A set of taped-off benches outside a pub in London
Boris Johnson (pictured) had previously said he was hopeful that lockdown rules in England would last until mid-February when announcing the third-national lockdown earlier this month
The latest development has caused further frustration among Tory MPs in the 70-strong Coronavirus Recovery Group (CRG) – which argues lockdown measures should only be used where absolutely necessary.
What are the council Covid powers and why have they been extended?
The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No.3) Regulations 2020 were created in July last year.
The purpose of the law is essentially to delegate powers to local authorities across England so they can enforce Covid rules.
Among the powers include allowing council officials to close hospitality venues, including pubs and restaurants, as well as gyms and outdoor spaces.
The law can also be used to prohibit events.
The law also includes the power for local authority officials to fine those who do not comply.
The powers were due to expire next week, but have now reportedly been extended until July.
Though this does not mean lockdown has been extended, the Government now has the powers in place should it decide to lengthen the lockdown.
Tory MP Mark Harper, who leads the group, told the Telegraph: ‘The extension of councils’ Covid powers until July will be of great concern to those worried about their jobs and businesses.
‘Once the top four risk groups have been vaccinated and fully protected by March 8, assuming the Government hits the February 15 deadline, the Government must start easing the restrictions.
‘Vaccinations will of course bring immunity from Covid, but they must bring immunity from lockdowns and restrictions too.’
Earlier this week Mr Harper had called on the Government to begin lifting the lockdown no later than the start of March.
He also called for the publication of a timetable to prevent further slippage.
Mr Harper said: ‘People must see light at the end of the tunnel and feel hope for the future and businesses need to be able to plan our recovery.’
Government scientists earlier this week urged ministers to delay the reopening of pubs and restaurants until at least May to prevent another wave of the virus. Whitehall sources suggested schools could remain shut to most pupils until after Easter.
Ministers met earlier this week to discuss draconian travel curbs aimed at keeping out mutant Covid strains but which could also wreck the summer holiday plans of millions of families.
Priti Patel on Friday said it was ‘far too early to speculate’ about whether foreign holidays would be possible this summer.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the UK Hospitality trade body, said many pubs and restaurants would ‘struggle to survive’ if they were forced to keep their doors closed until May.
She added: ‘If we are forced to wait for a longer period then unfortunately there will be very little left of the hospitality sector – and the 3.2million people who work in it – to reopen at that point in May.’
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the UK Hospitality trade body, said many pubs and restaurants would ‘struggle to survive’ if they were forced to keep their doors closed until May. Pictured: A man walks past a closed pub in east London
Blinds cover the windows of a pub, temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, near Anfield stadium, in Liverpool, on January 17, 2021
In recent weeks, the Prime Minister has repeatedly spoken of a return to normality this spring.
Last month he said: ‘We’re no longer resting on the mere hope that we can return to normal next year in the spring but rather the sure and certain knowledge that we will succeed.’
But asked directly whether the country was ‘looking at summer rather than spring’ for an easing of lockdown earlier this week, he replied: ‘I think it’s too early to say when we’ll be able to lift some of some of the restrictions.’
The PM said the new variant of the disease ‘does spread very fast indeed’, adding: ‘It unquestionably will be a very tough few weeks ahead.’
No10 also refused to rule out an extended lockdown when asked to clarify Mr Johnson’s remarks.
Asked directly whether he could rule out the lockdown lasting into the summer, the PM’s official spokesman said: ‘We will continue to keep all of the scientific evidence and data under review.
MELTDOWN IN THE HIGH STREET
The embattled high street will shed 200,000 jobs in 2021 as shops close at a rate of 380 every week, experts warned yesterday.
The Centre for Retail Research said retail will endure its worst year in a quarter of a century as tax breaks and Government support are withdrawn and the impact of the lockdown bites.
The dire warning would mean that the next 12 months are even worse than 2020, which saw 16,130 shops close, or 310 every week.
The retail industry employs around three million people. Shops are fighting to protect themselves from a mountain of rent and business rates costs, even as high streets remain shut. With scientists warning yesterday that much of the high street may have to wait until May before it can reopen, industry groups fear this would decimate the retail and hospitality sector. They had hoped shops would reopen sooner given the Government plans to vaccinate the most vulnerable groups by the middle of next month.
Footfall is not expected to recover on high streets for up to two years. Professor Joshua Bamfield, head of the CRR, said: ‘All sorts of damage was done last year which carries over to this year. You could argue 200,000 job losses is an underestimate.’
‘It remains our position that we want to ease restrictions as soon as it is safe to do so, but in order for us to do that we need to see the transmission rates of the virus come down and we need to see the pressure on the NHS reduce.’
A Government source insisted that the PM’s comments did not amount to a change in the timetable for easing the lockdown.
‘People should not read too much into this,’ the source said. ‘The PM wants to reopen as quickly as we safely can, but cases are very high and only coming down slowly – there has to be a degree of caution.’
Former Tory chief whip Mr Harper said the public now needed a timetable for easing the lockdown.
Mr Harper, chairman of the Covid Recovery Group, said achieving the Government’s target to vaccinate the 15million most vulnerable by February 15 should clear the way for restrictions to be lifted three weeks later when the vaccines had taken effect. ‘Covid causes serious harm and it’s vital we control it effectively,’ he said. ‘But this cycle of lockdowns and restrictions cause immense damage too – to people’s health, livelihoods and businesses.
‘Once the top four risk groups have been vaccinated and fully protected… the Government must start easing the restrictions.’ But Government scientists and health chiefs warned it was much too soon to even contemplate easing restrictions.
Dr Vin Diwakar, medical director for the NHS in London said the pandemic was ‘the biggest health emergency to face this country since the Second World War’.
Rounding on those still flouting the lockdown rules, he told a Downing Street press briefing: ‘For me and my colleagues in the NHS breaking the rules…. is like switching on a light in the middle of the blackout in the Blitz.’
And Dr Marc Baguelin, of Imperial College London, who sits on a sub-group of the Government’s Sage committee, said the early opening of the hospitality sector would lead to a rise in Covid cases. He told BBC Radio Four’s World at One programme: ‘Something of this scale, if it was to happen earlier than May, would generate a bump in transmission, which is already really bad.’