British expat in UAE hits out at UK’s ‘farcical’ hotel quarantine

Oil worker says UK government's new system will tear families apart

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 06: A traveler arrives at  the North Terminal at Gatwick Airport on February 6, 2021 in London, England. The UK Government has confirmed that anyone travelling to the UK from a country on the UK's travel ban "red list" from 15 February will be required to quarantine in a government-approved facility, such as a hotel room, for 10 days. (Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images)
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A British expat in the UAE has described the UK's hotel quarantine system as "farcical", and that it could tear families apart.

David Taylor, 41, is among travellers to Britain who will be forced to pay to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days from Monday – under a new scheme designed to keep mutant variants of coronavirus out of the UK.

Mr Taylor normally returns home to the UK each month to spend time with his wife and two children in north-east England.

The oil worker was due to return home next month but is now reconsidering, given the cost of £1,750 ($2,419) for a single adult  to stay in a quarantine hotel and the inconvenience.

"I've lost 11 nights with my family," Mr Taylor told The National on Friday.

"My wife works at home and looks after the two children with their schooling at the same time. I could have spent two weeks at home [in self-quarantine] just being with my kids.

“So it puts a lot of stress on the family.”

The UAE, along with Portugal, South Africa and some other African countries and all of South America, is on the UK's red list of countries where there is concern over new Covid-19 variants.

UK ministers faced criticism on Friday as an Australian scientist said elements of the UK plan were "very risky".

Official requirements for UK hotel operators show that the system will be less stringent than Australia’s hotel quarantine scheme.

The major difference is that hotel guests in the UK will be allowed to leave their rooms to go outside for fresh air, accompanied by security guards.

Epidemiologist Prof Michael Toole, from the Burnet Institute in Melbourne, said the UK was taking a chance by allowing travellers to leave their rooms.

“We’ve learnt that that is a very risky procedure,” he told the BBC.

Melbourne entered a snap five-day lockdown on Friday after a coronavirus outbreak linked to a quarantine hotel.

Mr Taylor said the news in Australia was concerning, and worried about a similar situation occurring in the UK.

He added that the travel ban and cancellation of direct flights from the UAE forced returning travellers to fly through other countries in order to get to the UK.

He said authorities now had to deal with flights from multiple countries with UAE travellers on board.

“It’s an absolute farce,” he said.

“Instead of receiving one flight with everyone on board, people are now spread across different flights. So I’m going to land at Heathrow and I’ll be shipped off to quarantine because I’m potentially contagious, but what happens to everyone else on that flight?

“People from France, Qatar, wherever, will just be allowed to leave the airport.”

Mr Taylor said expats were considering holidaying in another country for 10 days before returning to Europe to avoid the “mind-boggling” cost of hotel quarantine.

Travellers only need to declare if they have been in a red list country in the previous 10 days, according to government guidance.

"It would be cheaper for me to holiday in Florida for 10 days, which is full of Covid, than go into hotel quarantine," Mr Taylor said.

“The frustration is that I’m vaccinated, I get tested weekly, and I work in a country that has 49 per cent vaccinated – it makes no sense.”

The UK Department of Health said the hotel quarantine system was needed to defend the vaccination campaign from new variants of the virus.

“In the face of new variants, it is important that the government continues to take the necessary steps to protect people and save lives,” the department said.

Victoria Atkins, a junior Home Office minister, defended the UK’s policy, saying it was “reasonable” to allow travellers quarantining in hotels a “gulp of fresh air”.

“The hotels will, of course, be adhering to all of the very strict measures that we have in place in relation to social distancing and face masks and so on,” she said.

“But I think allowing someone a gulp of fresh air during a 10-day visit in a hotel, with all the very strict measures that we have, is reasonable – but of course we will keep these measures under review.”