UK hotel quarantine: what does it mean and can you get exemptions?

Travellers have been able to obtain day passes to leave hotel quarantine and visit very sick relatives, provided they have proof

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UK residents will be able to travel to a handful of countries without restriction, with the exception of a Covid-19 test required before departure and within two days of entering the country.

British and Irish citizens and anyone with UK residence rights who spent time in a country on the UK’s “red list” in the previous 10 days must still enter quarantine in a hotel if they travel to Britain.

The National explains how.

When and why did the traffic light policy come into force?

The policy was introduced in the UK on February 15 in response to fears of the spread of new variants of the coronavirus, which could evade immunity from previous infections or vaccines.

On May 7, as part of the loosening of lockdown laws in the UK, the government announced an updated list that includes places people could travel to and from relatively easily.

How do the hotel quarantines work?

For countries on the red list, which includes the UAE, passengers must provide proof they are coronavirus-free before they board their flight.

They must also book and pay for a quarantine hotel and package where they will be staying and complete a passenger locator form before they fly.

Anyone who has not arranged a quarantine package before their arrival in England faces a penalty of up to £4,000 ($5,532). They will still have to pay for their quarantine package on arrival in addition to the fine.

Hotel quarantine guests must stay in their rooms for 10 nights. The day of arrival in England is classed as day zero.

A 10-day stay costs £1,750 per passenger, with each additional adult or child incurring a charge of £650, or £325 for children aged five to 12.

The charges rise by an extra £1,200 if travellers test positive for coronavirus and need to extend their stay.

The cost of the package covers transport, food, accommodation, security and testing.

Anyone who faces significant financial hardship as a result of the charge can apply for a deferred repayment plan when booking.

What happens if you enter from a third country to evade detection?

Some UK citizens are avoiding entering hotel quarantine by taking a holiday in Turkey before heading home.

Travel companies are marketing “quarantine packages” to British nationals flying to the UK from red-list countries, particularly Pakistan, with a 10-day detour via Turkey.

One travel agency told The National the arrangement was "perfectly legal".

But if you lie about your recent travel you could also to be fined and possibly be jailed for up to 10 years for lying about recent travel.

In March, a man and woman were fined £10,000 ($13,924) for failing to enter a hotel quarantine after returning from Dubai to Merseyside in north-west England. The pair were later transferred to a quarantine hotel.

What impact has the policy had on Britons living in the UAE?

For many, it is merely inconvenient, but for those who have ill family members in the UK or are experiencing other emergencies, the policy has caused great anguish.

Abu Dhabi resident Imran Ellam, whose mother Sarah has Alzheimer’s disease, has lobbied his family’s member of parliament to change the policy, to no effect.

He is waiting for the next destination review to see whether the UAE will be removed.

"A few of us emailed our local MPs as well, but we all got the bog standard replies saying it's because of variants and we have to protect the UK and there are no exemptions," he told The National.

“One person said they got the day trip. But it was literally a day trip.”

Are exemptions granted?

It was not immediately clear if the traffic-light announcement on May 7 will have any effect.

Before then, the UK said travellers could request permission to leave the hotel for a limited time if a close family member or member of the person’s household was dying. Temporary leave may also be granted for a person to attend a funeral.

The UK said that leave was limited to the day of the funeral but a person may be allowed to stay elsewhere overnight “if you cannot stay in a nearby managed quarantine facility”.

A member of the British Mums Dubai Facebook group said she obtained a two-day pass to visit her terminally ill mother after contacting the UK government.

“You need to have proof. I had supporting letters from my mother’s hospital to say she is terminally ill,” she said.

She said she emailed at 11pm and received permission for a visit by 4pm the next day.

“My advice: email first. If no response, book the first ticket and quarantine hotel. Make sure you follow all the guidance,” she wrote.

“Book PCR tests, quarantine hotel, passenger locator form and 2x PCR tests for day two and day eight – this is included in the hotel quarantine package. Don’t waste time to get home.”