Quarantine hotels are inhumane – and not just because inmates will have little else to do but “PE with Joe Wicks” workout classes online. This virus has placed us under house arrest, stripped us of most of our civil liberties and institutionalised us into becoming thankful for being allowed to sit on a park bench with a friend. And of course, removed our freedom to travel in and out of our own country.
We might be able to go without the luxury of a holiday for a while, but preventing us from conducting business and connecting with loved ones is demanding a lot of sacrifice for the Greater Good, especially after a year.
And now the UK government is forcing us to play “trip roulette” by placing losers (ie: those who have flown in from red list countries) in airport hotels for 11 nights. And no one will come and clean your room for you either. (At best they will leave you some bleach and fresh sheets for you to do it yourself.) For a lucky few, there’s the hope of being escorted by masked guards for a “gulp” of fresh air a few times each day
How much do these airport “staycations” cost? £2,400 for a couple. This includes the cost of a room in a hotel not of your choosing, transfers from the airport (I doubt this will be a limo), security (it’s a prison, after all), two Covid tests (of the nosebleed variety probably), and food and drink but no alcohol. No cavity search? How disappointing.
Yes, I am furious. Mainly because all the most vulnerable people in the UK have been offered the vaccine now, so it doesn’t make sense, a whole year after the pandemic first reached our shores, to be doubling down on stopping people coming into our country.
These are people who have all been required to test negative for Covid before getting on a plane, and many of whom could go straight home to quarantine because they are citizens. The government has got it all wrong. Quarantine hotels should be for people who don’t have anywhere secure to self-isolate when they arrive in the UK. Or they should be for everyone coming in, not just form those red list countries.
Just as it’s bodged up the management of the pandemic in almost every other way, its attempt at copying countries such as Australia (which entirely closed borders and implemented quarantine hotels in March 2020) and Hong Kong (which provides all incoming passengers with GPS wristbands before confining them in hotels) will prove inadequate.
I think we know that the virus will slip through the gaps in the ill-conceived quarantine hotel protocols. For a start, passengers are simply being ask to self-declare where they have flown in from when they land, which means they could lie and just leave the airport in the same way as people from “green” countries do.
And even if they admit to having come from Portugal or South Africa, for example, there is little to stop them fleeing the airport or mingling with “clean” passengers in the long queues at immigration. It’s a shambles.
For quarantine hotels (or “isolation facilities”) to work, you have to be ruthlessly authoritarian about it. You have got to send every single arriving passenger to them (I am not an expert but I bet there are many more Covid-19 variants out there in the world – it’s not news that viruses mutate). And you have got to track every single person using GPS to make sure they don’t even set a foot outside their room – let alone go for a walk around the car park.
You have got to make sure food is left outside bedroom doors at different times of day so that the virus in the air doesn’t flow from one room across the corridor and into another (apparently this has occurred). Staff should be in hazmat suits. And there should be absolutely no fraternising between guards and “guests” (as reportedly happened in Melbourne).
Being able to have a few glasses of wine while watching Netflix (assuming the wifi is good enough) should be allowed for these poor people. Solitary confinement is a punishment given to criminals to strip them of the warmth of living in a world of people. Travellers who may or may not be infected with a virus should not be treated in this way.
Using the utilitarian goal of “saving lives” can be used to justify all sorts of rules for the “benefit” of society. (Don’t drive, it saves lives.) Suddenly it sounds like we are living in a Communist state.
In May of last year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was reported in The Times as joking that “I’ve learnt that it’s much easier to take people’s freedoms away than give them back”. I would argue that the problem is not that we don’t want our freedom back, but he is enjoying the power and control too much.
In a couple of months, when the government has given quarantine hotels a good bash, and they feel it won’t lose too much face by acknowledging that the UK system doesn’t work, they will scrap them. The next solution up for debate will be vaccine passports and tracking arriving passengers’ mobile phones.
Jenny Southan is editor and founder of travel trend forecasting agency Globetrender.