The first arrivals from 33 countries on the UK government’s “red list” have begun checking in to designated quarantine hotels, where private security guards will oversee exercise and cigarette breaks.
Anyone arriving in England from a country deemed a Covid-19 hotspot must book a 10-day quarantine package as of Monday, at a cost of £1,750 for a single adult, as the government seeks to limit the spread of the virus from overseas sources.
Officials have secured 4,963 rooms at 16 hotels, with more than 50,000 extra rooms on standby, amid uncertainty about the number of arrivals from red-list countries.
Initial concern that processing passengers from high-risk areas would worsen bottlenecks at airports such as Heathrow appeared to have dissipated on Monday morning.
But hotel industry sources said the government could struggle to secure many more beds due to strict criteria for participating hotels and the potential unwillingness of some to take part.
Quarantine hotels must not accept any other guests, meaning companies must weigh up whether they are better off accepting a quarantine group or sticking with normal bookings.
There is also concern among some hoteliers about the potential impact on the appetite of future guests to stay there.
“Hotels may not want to be known as the quarantine hotel,” said one industry figure.
Many smaller hotel chains are unable to take part because they do not have a kitchen able to offer three meals a day or a laundry service capable of dealing with guests on a longer stay.
Hotels must also be able to show that they have sufficient ventilation, ruling out some venues.
“For hotels it’s revenues they wouldn’t otherwise have at sites that are standing empty,” said Kate Nicholls, boss of trade body UK Hospitality. “But there are quite stringent requirements that not everybody can provide.”
On top of strict hygiene protocols, security guards will patrol quarantine hotels to ensure that guests are keeping to the quarantine restrictions, escorting them during breaks for exercise and cigarettes.
One source said the government had briefly considered banning cigarette breaks and offering guests nicotine replacement patches and gum instead, before relenting.
Guests, who must pay for the quarantine package at their own expense, will be allowed to order room service, including alcohol.
The French hotel group Accor, which owns the Novotel airport serving Heathrow terminals 1, 2 and 3, said it would accept quarantine guests from Tuesday.
“Novotel London Heathrow T1 T2 T3 has answered the call from government to assist with the mandatory hotel quarantine in order to support the safe return of Brits,” said a spokesperson.
“Covid government policy is designed to control the virus and keep people safe and our role is to support that action.
“Our priority remains the health and safety of our guests and hotel teams in addition to doing what we can to expedite the control of the crisis and ensure business and travel recovery as soon as possible.
“We appreciate the incredible circumstances and the challenges everyone entering quarantine is facing.
“The hotel team’s role is to do everything possible to support the guests through their stay, keeping them safe and ensuring their comfort and wellbeing.”
Hotels that are taking part are understood to be offering rooms and food to the government at cost of about £80 a night.
The remainder of the £1,750-per-adult fee is made up of the cost of transporting people and private security firms.
The quarantine policy had sparked concern about potential bottlenecks at passport control, especially at Heathrow. The airport warned there were “significant gaps” in the policy on Saturday.
A spokesperson for Heathrow said: “In recent days, passengers have spent as long as five hours queueing at the border, this is totally unacceptable, and we will continue closely monitoring this situation to better understand the impact this policy has on the passenger journey.”
But the airport said queues had eased and were now under one hour.
The spokesperson said Border Force had offered reassurance that it had the resources “to avoid compromising the safety of passengers and those working at the airport, which could necessitate the suspension of some arriving flights”.
Gatwick said it had no direct flights from red-list countries and that it was up to Border Force to spot the ones that had been in red-list countries in the past 10 days.
Birmingham, which expects 1,000 arrivals from all countries for the whole week, echoed Gatwick’s policy on identifying red-list arrivals.
A spokesperson for Farnborough in Hampshire, a business travel airport, said: “The airport has been designated an arrival port for the purposes of new government quarantine rules for arriving customers on applicable business aviation flights.
“All other business aviation flights using Farnborough airport are operating as normal.”