The U.K. government will “consider all possibilities” to enforce Covid-19 rules for travelers, and won’t rule out setting up quarantine hotels and using GPS trackers to fight the spread of the coronavirus, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.
People should be aware there is now a “high risk” of being caught if they fail to self-isolate for the required 10 days after arrival into the U.K., Raab said.
The travel clampdown is a “precautionary” approach to prevent any new variants of the virus derailing the U.K.’s mass vaccination program, he added, which aims to provide shots to all adults by September.
From Monday, the U.K. is closing its travel corridors with countries around the world, meaning all visitors from overseas will require a negative coronavirus test result within 72 hours of travel to enter Britain.
“All possibilities” being considered
Raab said Sunday that Public Health England would also be stepping up checks to make sure people are self-isolating in their own homes after travel.
He refused to rule out a report in the Sunday Times that officials are preparing quarantine hotels and the use of global positioning system and facial recognition technology to ensure people stay put, saying “all of the possibilities” are being considered.
The U.K. has announced a new grant program for airports and their ground operations to help with the costs of closing travel corridors, with more detail to follow soon, according to a Twitter post from transport minister Robert Courts.
This was welcomed by the British Airline Pilots Association but they said the situation for the aviation sector was “becoming desperate” and called for a wider recovery plan.
England is in the second week of its third national lockdown, with schools closed and people ordered to stay at home, as the government attempts to get a grip on a surge in cases over the winter.
There are currently more than 37,000 coronavirus patients hospitalized, and the daily death toll remains high – with another 1,295 fatalities recorded on Saturday.
NHS England Chief Executive Officer Simon Stevens said hospitals were “under extreme pressure,” with 53,000 NHS staff off work for virus-related reasons. “Every 30 seconds across England another patient is being admitted to hospital with coronavirus,” he told the BBC.
There are early signs that cases are beginning to fall but government scientists say the NHS will be under severe strain for weeks to come, due to the time lag between getting the infection and falling seriously ill.
Raab urged caution on the easing of restrictions in England, saying they could begin to be lifted by the “early spring” but it would be a gradual process rather than a “big bang.”
Ministers are pinning their hopes to end the crisis on the mass vaccination program and aim to offer shots to 15 million of the most vulnerable people by mid-February, and another 17 million by the spring.
More than 3.5 million people in the U.K. have so far received their first jab of the two-dose vaccine.
Britons have been told to wait as long as 12 weeks for their second shot, rather than the initial two to three weeks expected, so that as many people as possible can get some protection.
Raab told Sky News he couldn’t guarantee that everyone would get their second dose within 12 weeks, only that “we ought to” be able to deliver.
Asked by Times Radio to confirm the Sunday Times report on quarantine hotels and GPS tracking, Raab did not deny the story, saying: “We’re not in ordinary times.”
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