By Paul Sandle
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain will place travellers arriving from COVID-19 hot spots in quarantine in hotels from Feb. 15, the government said, after criticism that it was not moving fast enough to bring in the measure.
The mandatory 10-day stay in government-provided accommodation, first announced last month, is designed to tighten borders against mutant strains of the coronavirus which could endanger Britain's vaccination programme.
The quarantine will apply to states on a "red list" where COVID-19 variants are prevalent, including South Africa and countries in South America.
"This is adding to existing measures and we want to make sure that this works, that we give the hotel industry notice," junior foreign minister James Cleverly told Sky News on Friday.
In an announcement late on Thursday, the government said it had been consulting the travel and hotel industries, and would now finalise plans, including contracting hotels near ports and airports.
A Health Department spokeswoman said Britain already had one of the toughest border regimes in the world for travellers, such as requiring proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
"We are now working at pace to secure the facilities we need to roll out managed quarantine for British nationals returning home from the most high risk countries," she said.
Opposition lawmakers have criticised Boris Johnson's administration for not implementing the plan more quickly.
"We are in a race against time to protect our borders against new Covid strains. Yet hotel quarantine will come in to force more than 50 days after the South African strain was discovered," Labour's home affairs spokesman Nick Thomas-Symonds said.
Health minister Matt Hancock had discussed the policy with his counterpart in Australia, where quarantine was introduced in March 2020, the Health Department said. Officials would also seek advice from New Zealand.
(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper and Costas Pitas in London and Derek Francis in Bengaluru; Editing by Angus MacSwan)