Plans to detain arrivals to the UK from high-risk countries in quarantine hotels will not come into force until 15 February, the government has announced.
With pressure mounting on the government over the lack of details about the key border measure, it was announced that the health secretary, Matt Hancock, would take personal charge of implementation.
Boris Johnson announced last week that travellers still allowed to come to the UK from a “red list” of high-risk countries would be “met at the airport and transported directly into quarantine”.
Passengers would have to pay for their own stay in isolation. The government said commercial specifications had been made available to hotel firms and other providers, and contracts were expected to be signed early next week.
Ministers discussed details of the policy at a meeting of the Covid-O cabinet subcommittee on Thursday afternoon.
The shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, said the delay in announcing details of the policy was, “putting people at risk”.
“The government’s plans around quarantine are in disarray. Not only do they fail to go far enough – leaving open the door to potential vaccine-resistant strains – they can’t even implement the half-baked plans that have been announced,” he said.
“It’s now over six weeks since the South African strain was discovered and yet there is almost no reliable quarantine system in place.”
Thomas-Symonds wrote to the home secretary, Priti Patel, on Thursday posing a series of questions, including how many passengers are still arriving in the UK each day.
The announcement of a confirmed start date came after the head of one of the UK’s biggest airport hotel chains said his company has been “kept in the dark” over the plan.
The UK chief executive of Best Western, Rob Paterson, said the chain had made multiple offers to help but had not received a response.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Other than very broad information about what timings they’re thinking about and who is handling it, we haven’t had any discussions at all.”
He added: “I think in any normal company if you went out and announced a programme nationally and you hadn’t thought about how you were going to plan that and you hadn’t spoken to the people involved, I’m not sure I’d have a job.”
Hancock told ITV News he had been discussing how to implement the new regime with other countries that have taken a similar approach. “I was talking to my Australian counterpart earlier today, because they have these quarantine hotels,” he said.
“We will be bringing forward further measures, but we’ve got to get this right. And at the moment, you cannot come into the UK without the need for isolation. That is a very important part of keeping Britain safe.”
So-called travel corridors, which allowed quarantine-free entry from a list of countries considered relatively safe, were suspended last month amid fears about the risks from new Covid-19 mutations.