Families trying to get back to Britain from red list countries are now being forced to split up and quarantine in hotels up to 100 miles apart, it was revealed today.
A lack of available rooms for returning travellers in London has forced parents to separate from their children as the Government scrambles to increase capacity.
Government officials have now doubled the number of quarantine hotel rooms available after the expansion of the red list to include 11 countries in recent days.
One family from Sheffield returning from South Africa have been forced to split up with the mother in one room and their six-year-old son with the father in another.
They were told they could not all stay in one double room and instead had to pay for two rooms which will cost them more than £4,500, reported The Times.
One of the hotels is at London Gatwick and the other in Milton Keynes. Their MP Olivia Blake criticised the ‘ridiculous’ situation and said she knew of other examples.
The hotels cost £2,285 for 11 nights for one adult in one room, then £1,430 for an extra adult or child over 11, and £325 for a child aged 5 to 11. Under-fives are free.
Janine Akers, 66, the boy’s grandmother, told The Times yesterday: ‘They haven’t told their son yet and I don’t know what the stress is going to be when he’s told.
Passengers queuing for a Covid-19 test in the arrivals area of London Gatwick Airport today
A quarantine room at the Holiday Inn Express at Heathrow Terminal 4, pictured this week
‘When they got the two room bookings confirmed they had no choice but to take them otherwise they may have been stranded over Christmas.’
She said that they were about £6,000 out of pocket after they also had to defer their flights for £250 and find additional accommodation in South Africa for £600.
Q&A: What are the new travel rules for Britons?
What are the new travel rules?
From 4am today, everyone over 12 travelling to the UK needs to have taken a pre-departure test – either lateral flow or PCR – to prove they don’t have Covid-19. This test is mandatory, including for those who are vaccinated.
What if I test positive overseas?
Britons are advised to contact the British embassy or consulate for advice. You will have to abide by the quarantine rules that apply in that country. This will involve a period of quarantine in a government-approved hotel or facility at your expense, which could run to several hundred pounds. You will need to fund any medical treatment required. You can return home after testing negative, but will probably need to pay for a new flight.
What happens after I arrive home?
Returning travellers must self-isolate at home until they take a day two test. This must be a PCR test, which is booked before you travel and bought privately from a government-approved provider. You must self-isolate until you get a negative result.
What about travel insurance?
Some policies, such as those offered by the Post Office, include coronavirus cover. This will include trip cancellation and curtailment cover; overseas medical and repatriation costs.
What if I want to cancel a foreign trip?
You don’t have a legal right to a refund. But most tour operators and airlines will give you a voucher to re-book at a later date.
What countries are on the red list now?
Ten southern African countries were added to the UK’s travel red list because of Omicron – South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Angola, Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia. Nigeria was added from yesterday.
What are the travel rules for red list countries?
You should not travel to red list countries for holidays. People returning to the UK from a red list country must take a pre-departure test and undergo a hotel quarantine for ten days, with a test at day two or eight. Quarantine currently costs £2,285 for a single adult and £1,430 for a second adult.
What happens next?
These are temporary measures introduced to prevent further Omicron cases from entering the UK. They will be examined at the three-week review point on December 20.
A Government spokesman told MailOnline: ‘The quarantine measures we have in place are minimising the risk of variants coming into the UK and safeguarding the hard-won progress of our vaccination programme.
‘The majority of passengers who have used the Managed Quarantine Service have been satisfied with the service and we aim to keep families together. We would advise guests to raise any concerns with hotel staff in the first instance.’
Whitehall sources added that if extended families are placed in separate rooms, these people would not be allowed to intermix between rooms unless there was an interconnecting door between the rooms and the guests were from the same family.
They said they were not aware of any families being placed in separate hotels having booked together, and the aim was to keep families together at the time of booking.
It comes as Sajid Javid swerved demands to compensate the travel industry yesterday, as he insisted that new restrictions were needed to control the spread of the Omicron variant.
The Health Secretary defended the introduction of pre-departure travel tests, which came into force today, just days after ministers insisted they were not needed.
He said pre-departure testing ‘could have a greater role to play in identifying positive cases before travel’ because of new data suggesting Omicron could have a shorter window between infection and infectiousness.
Mr Javid said he ‘fully understood’ the impact on the travel sector, adding: ‘This hugely important part of the economy has been hit again and again.’
But he ducked repeated questions about whether the government would provide extra financial support for the industry, which is still in recovery from the repeated lockdowns of the last two years.
Travel industry leaders yesterday accused the government of over-reacting and demanded a package of financial support for an industry facing a collapse in bookings and mass cancellations.
Chief executive of Advantage Travel Partnership, Julia Lo Bue-Said, called the sudden changes to the rules ‘a fatal bullet for many travel agents’.
She said: ‘Once again we are at the mercy of a Government who can’t communicate with each other.’
British Airways’ chairman and chief executive, Sean Doyle, said: ‘The blanket re-introduction of testing to enter the UK, on top of the current regime of isolation and PCR testing on arrival is completely out of step with the rest of the world, with every other country taking a measured approach based on the science.
‘Our customers will now be faced with uncertainty and chaos and yet again this a devastating blow for everyone who works in the travel industry.’
Travel industry trade body, ABTA, said: ‘The re-introduction of pre-departure tests will be a huge blow to travellers and an already devastated travel industry, which has been the hardest hit sector throughout the crisis and which is now fast approaching the key booking season for next summer.
Food provided to a couple in quarantine at the Holiday Inn Express at Heathrow this week
Food provided to a couple in quarantine at the Holiday Inn Express at Heathrow this week
‘While we have always been clear that public health must be the priority at this time, the Government must now step up to save jobs and businesses.
How much quarantine hotels cost passengers
Here are the prices of quarantine hotels which have to be paid for those returning from red list countries:
- 1 adult in 1 room for 10 days (11 nights) – £2,285
- Additional rate for 1 adult (or child over 11) – £1,430
- Additional rate for a child aged 5 to 11 – £325
- Child under 5 – free
The price includes transport to and from the hotel; accommodation, food and drink for the whole of the stay; and any Covid-19 tests which need to be taken during the quarantine period.
‘The industry needs financial support, which recognises these measures will significantly weakens demand and the Chancellor must now consider the reintroduction of furlough for travel industry to avoid further job losses.
‘Travellers must also be supported with measures taken to offset the cost of these additional tests by reducing the cost of PCR testing – including a price cap and the removal of VAT.
‘It’s vitally important this decision is reversed as quickly as possible, in line with scientific and medical advice, as it is simply not possible for the travel industry to recover properly while this huge barrier to consumer confidence is in place.’
Chief executive of Airlines UK, Tim Alderslade, said: ‘It is premature to hit millions of passengers and industry before we see the full data. We don’t have the clinical evidence.
‘The red list extension made complete sense – that’s what it’s there for – but we know from experience that blanket restrictions do not stop the importation of variants. It’s already here.
‘They’ve now changed their travel advice twice within a week and it’s just impossible for anyone to plan.
‘These measures must be removed as quickly as possible in line with the speed of the booster programme.’
Thomas Cook said: ‘We know that our customers are keen to get away safely and we’re working with everyone booked in the next few weeks to help them understand the new testing requirements.
‘We are also working to rearrange customers’ holidays where we can if they choose to move to a later date.’
What are the 11 countries on Britain’s red list?
Gary Lewis, chief executive of The Travel Network Group, which represents more than 1,200 travel businesses in the UK, slammed the changes.
He said: ‘The latest Covid travel announcements are a punch in the stomach for the travel industry just as we approach the important Christmas period, the ski season and the traditional January summer holiday booking peak.
‘The travel industry has taken on huge debts to service customers throughout this crisis without earning any profits from the impact of customer refunds and cancellations.
‘We need the government to provide a package of financial support to ensure survival against the impact of these latest announcements. Direct financial support, delay to debt repayments, deferral of HMRC liabilities, and provision of grants for agents who are at the forefront of customer conversations.
‘The government should also immediately improve customer support by providing free, easy to access PCR tests for travellers and stop the enormous costs of hotel quarantine by simply enabling track and trace to allow home quarantine for arrivals from red list countries.’
It comes as rogue firms are taking advantage of new travel rules to advertise expensive PCR tests for as little as 30p – only to sting families with sky-high fees.
Revised rules mean all arrivals to the UK must take a PCR test within two days, and not just the cheaper lateral flow test as before. This is because PCR tests can identify variants such as Omicron.
Companies on the Government-approved list have been promoting the low prices in order to appear at the top of online searches.
But once travellers click through to the website they can get caught out by ‘fees’ of £59 or more. Just yesterday firms were offering PCR tests for £15, which then came with a fee of £79. It could leave a family of four facing a bill of £376.
The issue has arisen because, although in theory travellers can get self-swab tests for just £15, there are very few available.
Experts have called on Health Secretary Sajid Javid and watchdogs the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to act.
Which? travel editor Rory Boland said: ‘The Government’s official list of PCR test providers is still rife with companies promoting misleading prices and we are yet to see any meaningful action from the CMA’s audit of the private testing system.’
The CMA recently sent letters to 25 PCR providers, warning them to review their terms and conditions – or face action.
** Are you stuck in a quarantine hotel? Please email: [email protected] **