British families returning from foreign holidays will have to pay for an extra 10 days in an airport hotel under heavy guard, in plans backed by the Home Office.
Senior Cabinet ministers are likely to approve a plan to force people returning from overseas to quarantine in a hotel to ensure that they cannot bring variants of Covid-19 back into the UK.
The chief dispute at Cabinet level is whether the hotel quarantine rules apply to all visitors or just to those returning from coronavirus hotspots.
Downing Street sources confirmed that hotel quarantining was likely to form part of the “next steps”, after Boris Johnson made clear at his press conference on Friday that more would have to be done on securing the borders.
The plans will be thrashed out at a meeting of the Government’s Covid-Operational committee, chaired by Mr Johnson, the Prime Minister, on Tuesday.
Home Secretary Priti Patel and Health Secretary Matt Hancock are understood to back tougher measures while Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Chancellor Rishi Sunak support a more targeted approach.
Ms Patel is understood to be pushing for all returning travellers, including Britons, to spend 10 days in a designated hotel near an airport or port on returning. Talks are already underway with hotel chains including Holiday Inn-owner IHG.
Taxpayers would cover the cost of security guards to ensure they did not attempt to leave the hotel or go home. One Home Office source said: “You have to do it for everything or it makes it pointless.”
One source said: “Officials are sounding out which chains would be interested. They are empty. It makes sense for a lot of them.
“It is working out what it looks like in practice, that is what is happening over the weekend.”
The hope is that the current numbers of arrivals (around 10,000 a day) will slow to a trickle of several thousand visitors a day once the measures are adopted.
The quarantine plan is favoured to Australian-style border closures which could leave Britons stranded and force the Government to fund an airlift operation to bring them home.
Longer term, the Home Office is looking at forcing new arrivals to download an App onto their mobile phones and ask them to send selfies of themselves at home.
The ‘selfie’ plan is based on a scheme which is run in Poland. Police and enforcement officers can check the person is still at home using location data in the selfie.
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One Home Office source said the idea was “interesting” but there was some nervousness given the failure of the NHS Test and Trace app last year.
Briefings for Tuesday's meeting warn that closing the border will require a “global repatriation process” for Britons stranded abroad similar to the £75 million operation mounted by the Foreign Office in the first lockdown to rescue some 300,000 people.
A senior source said: “If we had to close the borders, repatriation would be on the cards which is logistically a nightmare.
“If you are stuck in Panama or wherever you have been for the last few months, you would probably have to charter planes or get the military involved to get them back and quarantine them all.”
The hotels’ quarantine plan was meant to be discussed at a meeting of the Covid Operations committee on Friday but had been pushed to this week.
One source said: “The questions that ministers threw up meant that officials had to go away and work on the options harder. That was why it was put in this week.”
Ms Patel last week ordered that everyone entering the UK should be checked by Border Force officers for negative Covid-19 tests within 72 hours of departure and locator forms.
Border Force has already started ramping up enforcement with half of the 20,000 who arrived at Heathrow stopped and checked last Monday, compared with ten per cent before the pre-departure tests were introduced at 4am on Monday morning.
More than 230 people were fined £500 apiece last week for not having a negative test or not completing their form, according to the Home Office.
Airlines also face fines of £2,000 per passenger for allowing people onto flights without the proper documentation.
“It is to make sure more people are complying. Compliance is high but we don’t want to miss anyone,” said a Government source.
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