The Government has refused to reveal the number of Covid cases found through its controversial quarantine hotels scheme.
Since February 15, travelers returning home to the UK after visiting one of 33 red-listed countries have been forced to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days at a cost of £1,750 each.
The red-list areas are considered high risk and the quarantine, ministers hope, will prevent people from bringing mutated variants of the coronavirus into the UK.
A variant that first emerged in South Africa, and appears to make vaccines less effective, is already spreading in Britain and officials are trying to keep it under wraps and prevent new versions of the virus from springing up.
The Government has banned visitors from travelling into the UK from red-list countries, which include Portugal, Brazil and South Africa, but not people who have residency visas or British citizenship.
The policy was criticised at the outset by travellers themselves, who have to stump up the cost, and by critics who said it would be too difficult to enforce or ineffective.
It is not clear how many travellers are actually using the quarantine hotels, and the Department of Health has refused to reveal how many of them have tested positive. The Department declined to comment.
Since February 15, travelers returning home to the UK after visiting one of 33 red-listed countries have been forced to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days at a cost of £1,750 each (Pictured: A woman stands by the window at a quarantine hotel close to London Heathrow)
The Department of Health said data counting the number of people carrying Covid when they arrived in the UK is not publicly available.
It would be the only benchmark to determine whether the hotel quarantine is working.
When asked about how many cases had been spotted since the scheme started, the agency simply said all positive tests are recorded in the daily national updates.
Officials said they would not provide a commentary on the number of passengers in quarantine or on ‘enforcement action’.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock today boasted that the UK’s border measures are working well but his claims were contradicted by PHE data.
The measures also include a requirement for all travellers to test negative within the three days prior to arriving in the UK, and to produce a certificate proving this.
Mr Hancock said today on Sky News: ‘The good news is that the number of new variant cases we’re finding across the whole UK is falling, and has fallen quite sharply over the last month.
‘In the last week or so, there were just over a dozen new cases, which is far smaller than we were seeing even a couple of weeks ago.
‘So the extra measures we are taking at the border are working and also the lower case rate makes it much less likely that there will be new variants here because new variants tend to arrive when you’ve got an area that’s got a very high case rate.’
But a PHE report updated today showed 42 more infections with concerning variants were found between February 17 and February 22.
The South African variant was detected 23 more times, taking the total to 258, and it has been seen in Northern Ireland for the first time.
This is the variant causing most concern among politicians and scientists because it is widespread in other parts of the world and makes vaccines slightly less effective.
It carries a mutation called E484K that makes immune cells produced in response to other versions of the virus less able to attach to it and stop it, allowing it to partially evade immunity.
Another four cases of an older variant containing the same mutation, first found in Liverpool, were announced, along with four cases of the Bristol variant; and seven of a separate one discovered dotted around the UK.
On the count of people testing positive in quarantine hotels, the Department of Health said it never breaks down positive tests by individuals’ locations or test sites.
Upon arrival, travellers must show Border Force officers evidence of a negative PCR or antigen test result taken within three days of leaving the previous country.
Quarantining guests are then tested on days two and eight using PCR tests self-administered in their own rooms.
They can leave after they have received a negative result and quarantined for 10 days.
Meanwhile, guests who test positive on the second occasion will have to pay £1,200 to extend their stay for an extra eight nights at £152 per day.
Arrivals who lie about where they have been — and their possible exposure to new Covid variants — could be jailed for a maximum of 10 years.
And if they leave their hotel before the end of quarantine they could be fined up to £10,000.
What are the rules for entering Britain?
- You cannot enter the UK if you’ve been in or through a country on the banned travel list (known as the ‘red list’) in the last 10 days, unless you’re British, Irish or you have the right to live in the UK
- You must either quarantine where you’re staying or in a managed quarantine hotel for 10 days
- What you need to do depends on where you travel in the 10 days before you arrive – if you travel in or through a country on the banned travel list within 10 days, you must stay managed quarantine hotel; if not, you can quarantine at home
- You need to provide your journey and contact details in the 48 hours before you arrive in the UK. You must do this by completing the online passenger locator form
- You’ll need to show proof that you’ve completed the form when you arrive at the UK border as well as proof of a negative PCR or antigen test taken three days before departure
- You could be fined £500 when you arrive at the border if you cannot provide proof that you have had a negative coronavirus test
- You do not need a test if you’re travelling within the UK, the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey; from Ireland; from Ascension, Falkland Islands or St Helena; and children under 11 do not need a test
- After arriving at a quarantine hotel you will be tested on days two and eight of your stay using a PCR test self-administered in your room
- In Scotland, arrivals from all international destinations have to quarantine, even if they are not on the red list.