Boris Johnson warns 'vaccine-busting' variants could prompt tougher quarantine rules

Tourism set to take another hit as Britain considers mandatory isolation in hotel rooms for people entering the country

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 25: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a vial of the Oxford/Astrazeneca coronavirus vaccine during a visit to Barnet FC's ground at The Hive on January 25, 2021 in London, England. Government figures show that 6.3 million people across the UK have received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, as 32 more vaccination centres open across England. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Leading travel industry figures warned on Tuesday that people from Britain won't book overseas trips this year if compulsory quarantine is imposed on all arrivals to halt the spread of "vaccine-busting" Covid-19 variants.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday his government is “definitely looking at” setting up mandatory quarantine at the border for travellers arriving in the UK.

New variants of the virus are opening up the prospect of a much longer battle against the pathogen than previously thought.

Some scientists fear these strains are more deadly and that vaccines may be less effective against them.

However, travel industry chiefs warned that bringing in hotel quarantine for all arrivals – similar to a system operated in Australia and New Zealand – would effectively shut the UK's borders.

Concerns are increasing that fewer people will book an overseas holiday if they are forced to quarantine for 10 days in a hotel upon their return.

In a joint statement, the Airport Operators Association and Airlines UK said the country already had "some of the highest levels of restrictions in the world" and tougher rules would be "catastrophic".

Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy the PC Agency, said: “Boris Johnson needs to set an end date, otherwise the restrictions could easily be in place until Easter next year. You only have to look at Australia with its restrictions expected to remain into next year.”

Mr Johnson was set to discuss the proposal with ministers on Tuesday but a policy may not be announced until Wednesday.

"We have to realise there is at least the theoretical risk of a new variant that is a vaccine-busting variant coming in – we've got to be able to keep that under control," he said on Monday.

"We want to make sure that we protect our population, protect this country against reinfection from abroad. We need a solution."

In Australia, all arrivals must pay for their own quarantine for a minimum of two weeks in a government-approved hotel. The hotels are monitored by police and security guards, with travellers not allowed to leave their rooms.

The cost of staying in an Australian quarantine hotel is about £1,700 (US $2,342) per adult and £2,800 for a family of two adults and two children. It is billed after the quarantine is completed.

The system is among the measures credited with limiting cases of coronavirus in Australia to just 28,777 registered infections throughout the pandemic.

However, the strict policy means only a handful of government-backed airlines are flying to Australia as the route is no longer profitable, leaving thousands of Australians stranded abroad due to the limited seat availability.

The UK government is, therefore, under pressure to announce repatriation missions for overseas British citizens should hotel quarantine be imposed on all arrivals.