“There’s still 37,000 people in hospital with COVID at the moment, it’s far too early for us to even speculate about the summer.”
Answering an urgent question in the Commons, Home Secretary Priti Patel said ministers “will not hesitate to take further action” to protect the UK from coronavirus variants.
She is also expected to make a statement on “health measures at the border” on Wednesday afternoon, according to an updated Commons schedule.
John Swinney, Scotland’s Deputy First Minister, said he understood the decision by Prime Minister Boris Johnson had been “deferred until this evening”.
But he revealed the Scottish government will “go at least as far” as any UK government announcement – with its “own additional supervised quarantine measures” if needed.
Travel industry sources have told Sky News they expect the policy to be introduced imminently, as the government tries to suppress new variants of coronavirus.
They anticipate an announcement could come as soon as today, but even those close to discussions remain unclear how broad the restrictions will be.
Sources believe differing views remain among ministers over whether restrictions should apply to arrivals from all countries to the UK, or simply those from a proscribed list.
While hotel groups are ready to help house thousands of arrivals, the move will be another hammer blow to the travel industry, signalling that unfettered overseas travel is unlikely to return this summer.
Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said a “comprehensive hotel quarantine system” is required.
“It cannot be restricted to only a handful of countries leaving gaping holes in our defences against different strains of the virus emerging around the world and the government must announce a sector support package for aviation,” he told MPs.
“The government’s proposals that have been briefed to the press are half-baked and will be ineffective. As ever it’s too little, too late.”
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said around 15,000 travellers are coming into the UK every day at the moment.
Putting them all in hotels would mean using sites “across the UK”, he said.
“They don’t all have to be hotels by airports,” Mr Charles continued.
“Obviously they’ve got to make sure that those transfers are secure, and it will be logistically tough, but the airports are very used to dealing with coaching people to hotels in crises or times of bad weather etc.”
Senior government ministers are due to meet on Tuesday to consider further travel restrictions, including requiring travellers arriving in the UK to pay to quarantine at a designated hotel.
Prime Minister Mr Johnson has expressed his concern that – as the UK’s vaccination programme is rolled out – there is a risk a new COVID variant could develop abroad that is resistant to existing vaccines.
Asked at a Downing Street news conference if he supported enforced hotel quarantine for all those arriving in the UK, Health Secretary Matt Hancock replied: “I think it is incredibly important that we are cautious at the border.”
Mr Hancock, who sits on the cabinet’s COVID-O committee that will meet on Tuesday, highlighted how the government last week closed all UK travel corridors – which had allowed arrivals from some countries to avoid having to quarantine – until at least 15 February.
And he stressed that it is currently “illegal”, under England’s current national lockdown, to travel abroad without a reasonable excuse as set out in legislation.
He added: “It is important that we protect from new variants should they have vaccine evasion.
Gallery: Coronavirus outbreak around the world (Photo Services)
“And it is also reasonable to take a precautionary principle to protect this country whilst we work on the science and the analysis of the different variants that are discovered around the world.”
Earlier on Monday, Mr Johnson confirmed that asking those arriving in the UK to quarantine in hotels “is certainly one thing we’re actively now working on”.
Australia and New Zealand are among countries that already require arriving travellers to quarantine in approved accommodation.
Heathrow Airport has warned that requiring all international arrivals to the UK to enter quarantine would have “huge ramifications” for the aviation sector.
“We support measures that will bring the COVID-19 crisis to an end once and for all,” a spokesman said.
“However, we must be clear that a blanket hotel quarantine is effectively the closure of our borders which carries huge ramifications for Britain and its aviation sector, already on its knees.”
The airport urged Chancellor Rishi Sunak to “finally deliver on his promise of a comprehensive financial support package for UK aviation”.
Other industry bodies warned of a “catastrophic” impact of further UK border measures.
Meanwhile, travel stocks have taken a hit in anticipation of weaker holiday and travel demand.
Stay alert to stop coronavirus spreading – here is the latest government guidance. If you think you have the virus, don’t go to the GP or hospital, stay indoors and get advice online. Only call NHS 111 if you cannot cope with your symptoms at home; your condition gets worse; or your symptoms do not get better after seven days. In parts of Wales where 111 isn’t available, call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47. In Scotland anyone with symptoms is advised to self-isolate for seven days. In Northern Ireland, call your GP.
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