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Hotel quarantine

Hotel quarantine for new arrivals has been introduced to “reduce the risk of a new strain of the virus entering the UK”.

UK border, immigration

Why has the government introduced hotel quarantine?

Hotel quarantine for new arrivals has been introduced to “reduce the risk of a new strain of the virus entering the UK”.[1] The list of countries subject to hotel quarantine measures were chosen because of the risk of known variants such as the Brazilian or South African variants.

The government has already banned travel from these countries for non-UK nationals and residents, and hotel quarantine has been implemented to reduce the risk of variants being introduced by returning UK nationals and residents.

Who is required to enter hotel quarantine and are there exemptions?

The UK government has announced it introduced a limited hotel quarantine policy for UK and Irish residents travelling to England from high-risk countries, or who have visited a high-risk country within the last 10 days. 

There are 33 countries on this 'red list',[2] including South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, Portugal and Brazil, and the government has said it will add more if needed. There was already a travel ban in place for non-British citizens and residents who have been in or transited through these countries in the previous 10 days before hotel quarantine was introduced.

The UK government said that hotel quarantine would apply without exception to travellers from relevant countries – whether vaccinated or not. However, there are a small number of exemptions from hotel quarantine, including hauliers travelling from Portugal, defence and diplomatic personnel or people undertaking specific essential government work.[3]

How does hotel quarantine work?

Travellers from ‘red-list’ countries must book and pay for the hotel quarantine via an online portal prior to travelling. Those requiring hotel quarantine are only able to arrive in England at certain points of entry. Arrivals are met at the airport and transported to quarantine in an assigned room in a designated hotel for 10 days after their arrival, and they are transported back to the airport once they have completed quarantine.

People are only able to leave their rooms for a very small set of reasons – including accessing critical public services. Leaving the hotel room for exercise will need permission, and the guidance has stated this is not guaranteed.[4]

Arrivals are tested for coronavirus on the second and eighth day of arrival, or if they show symptoms.

The measures came into force on 15 February. In late February, around 100 to 150 people per day were entering the hotel quarantine system, out of total arrival numbers of around 15,000.[5]

Who pays for hotel quarantine and how much does it cost?

The government requires travellers to pay a fee of £1,750 for their stay, with an additional rate of £650 for children over 12 and £325 for children between five and 12 years old. Children under five have no additional cost. This includes the cost of transport and testing.

There is an option to apply for a deferred payment plan if individuals are facing significant financial hardship, which is only available for those in receipt of income-related benefits.

The prices will be reviewed at the end of March.

What about travellers from other destinations?

Travellers arriving from other destinations are still required to self-quarantine for 10 days, fill out a passenger locator form and must have a negative test 72 hours before travel. They also have to complete PCR tests on the second and eighth day of their home quarantine.

The home secretary has said police have stepped up physical checks to ensure people are complying with self-isolation rules.[6]

What rules apply to people wanting to leave the UK?

In order to try and reduce the number of people travelling across the border from all destinations, the government has said that people can only travel internationally where they have a legally permitted reason to leave home (e.g. for work that cannot be done from home) and that it is illegal to travel abroad for holidays and other leisure purposes.[7] They will need to give a ‘reason to travel’ declaration when they leave the country, which will be checked by carriers.

If the reason does not count as a valid reason, they will be asked to return home and could be fined. The home secretary said police presence would be increased at airports and ports to help with this measure.

Who runs hotel quarantine? Does it involve outsourcing?

The prime minister has appointed Matt Hancock, as secretary for health and social care, to oversee cross government efforts to implement hotel quarantine. Matt Hancock will chair a new cabinet sub-committee dedicated to the policy, which is likely to include the Home Office, Department for Transport, and the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office. The government has also appointed an adviser, General Sir Gordon Messenger, Vice Chief of Defence Staff, to help with the roll out.  

The government has contracted a number of companies to provide hotels and security, including Mitie, Corporate Travel Management, G4S and Corps Security.[8]

How is hotel quarantine enforced?

The government has said that it will become a duty in law for carriers to ensure that arrivals have signed up to hotel quarantine prior to travelling. Eligible individuals who fail to quarantine in a hotel will be subject to a £5,000–10,000 fixed penalty notice. If passengers are found to have concealed on the passenger locator form that they have been in a red-list country, thereby evading hotel quarantine, they could be given a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

How long will hotel quarantine measures be in force?

The government has not said how long these measures will last or identified a trigger for lifting them. It has said that it will keep the measures under review, including the list of countries that require hotel quarantine.

What about the other nations of the UK?

While border policy is set by the UK government for the whole of the UK, quarantine policies will be implemented by public health measures which are a devolved responsibility. Therefore, the UK government’s announcement only applies to arrivals to England. 

The UK government says it is working on a four-nation approach, but both the Scottish and Welsh governments urged the UK government to implement more comprehensive quarantining, and this may become a point of divergence between the four nations.[9] The Scottish government is implementing hotel quarantine for all direct entries to Scotland from outside of UK or the Republic of Ireland.[10] People travelling from red list countries to Wales and Northern Ireland are required to quarantine in England.[11] 

The UK government will also need to work with the Irish government and the Northern Ireland executive to manage travel between Northern Ireland, Ireland and Great Britain. The Republic of Ireland is planning hotel quarantine for a number of countries including Brazil and South Africa, but not for EU countries like Portugal.[12]

What challenges might the government encounter running hotel quarantine?

There are a number of logistical challenges associated with hotel quarantine. The government will need to find enough suitable hotel rooms to quarantine new arrivals to the UK. They will also need to ensure people are looked after safely and securely from their arrival in the UK to when they are cleared to leave quarantine. This means organising security and transport to the hotels and monitoring the health and welfare of those in quarantine, via testing and assessments. This will require suitably qualified health professionals, who are in short supply across the health service.

How does hotel quarantine work in other countries?

Several countries introduced government-managed quarantine systems early in the pandemic.

Since March 2020, Australia has required people arriving from overseas to quarantine in designated hotels for 14 days. Australia started allowing quarantine-free travel from New Zealand in October 2020, but this has been temporarily suspended when there have been outbreaks in New Zealand. Only Australian citizens and permanent residents are allowed to enter the country, though exceptions have been made (for instance, tennis players competing in the Australian Open and some seasonal workers in the agricultural industry). There are caps on the number of people allowed to arrive in each state per week. This is currently around 3,000 per week for New South Wales (which includes Sydney), with smaller numbers in other states and territories. Those in quarantine are charged for their stay: AUD$3000 (around £1600) for individuals, with lower rates for extra adults and children travelling in a family group.

Hong Kong introduced hotel quarantine for high-risk countries in July 2020 and extended this to all countries other than China in November 2020. Since December 2020, all arrivals who have been outside mainland China, Macao or Taiwan have been required to quarantine for 21 days at government designated quarantine hotels. Travellers from mainland China, Taiwan or Macao have to quarantine at their home for 14 days. Only Hong Kong citizens and residents are permitted entry. Hong Kong has barred entry to citizens and residents who have been in the UK or South Africa in the previous three weeks. Travellers must book and pay for a designated hotel themselves and show proof of a room reservation when boarding a flight.[13] The Hong Kong authorities invited applications from hotels to become designated quarantine hotels, subject to strict requirements on security and an inspection. As the rooms have been filled, the authorities have invited more hotels to come forward to meet demand.[14]

Since April 2020, New Zealand has implemented a strict managed isolation and quarantine programme for all arrivals. The country has restricted their borders to citizens and residents (with a few limited exceptions). Everyone arriving must isolate in official managed isolation facilities for 14 days. These are specially chosen hotels, staffed by teams of health professionals, hotel and government staff, who provide regular testing and health assessments. The government is charging some arrivals for quarantine – those returning to the country for less than 90 days, or those who had left New Zealand after the charges came into effect in August, are charged NZ$3,100 (around £1600), and employers must pay NZ$5,520 (around £2800) for critical workers to stay in managed isolation.[15] People wanting to go to New Zealand must reserve a place in managed isolation through a government online portal prior to buying a flight. Spaces are in short supply and are booked out months in advance.[16]

Since April 2020, South Korea has required new arrivals to quarantine, but only non-resident short-term travellers must quarantine at a government-designated facility – Korean nationals and long-term foreign visitors with a Korean residence can quarantine at home. Once in quarantine, arrivals need to provide regular health updates on a self-diagnosis app, as well as three rounds of testing.[17] Arrivals are charged around £81 a day for the isolation facilities.[18] Foreign travellers can apply for an exemption from isolation from the Korean embassy for reasons such as business needs or a family member’s death, but such exemptions have recently been tightened in light of new international variants.[19]

Taiwan has operated a hotel quarantine system since April 2020, when travellers coming from higher risk countries had to quarantine in hotels if their home did not meet certain requirements.[20] In May 2020, this was extended to all arrivals. The country operates different systems of quarantine on arrival depending on where travellers have arrived from. Its borders are closed to foreign nationals, apart from resident visa holders, and other limited exceptions. Arrivals can quarantine at their home if they live alone, or they can book into a listed quarantine hotel at their own expense. People arriving from certain high-risk locations (including the UK and South Africa) must stay at government-designated sites, which are government-owned facilities, student dorms or hotels.[21] For UK arrivals, costs are paid for by the Taiwanese authorities.[22] On boarding and arrival, travellers must provide proof of a place to quarantine for 14 days, or else will be refused entry. 


[1] Department for Transport, Coronavirus (COVID-19): travel bans to the UK, 18 November 2020,; Department for Transport and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Travel bans extended as United Arab Emirates, Burundi and Rwanda added to red list to prevent spread of new variant, 28 January 2021,

[2] Department for Transport, Travel from South American destinations, Portugal, Panama and Cape Verde banned to prevent spread of new variant, 14 January 2021,; Hansard, Covid-19 Update, Volume 688: debated on Wednesday 27 January 2021,

[3] Department of Health and Social Care, 'Quarantining in a managed quarantine hotel' in 'Booking and staying in a quarantine hotel when you arrive in England', 11 February 2021,

[4] Department of Health and Social Care, 'Exemptions' in 'Booking and staying in a quarantine hotel when you arrive in England', 11 February 2021,

[5] Home Affairs Committee, Oral evidence: The work of the Home Secretary, HC 561, 24 February 2021,

[6] Cabinet Office, National lockdown: Stay at Home, 4 January 2021,; Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, Travel advice: coronavirus (COVID-19), 4 February 2021,

[7] Hansard, Covid-19 Update, Volume 688: debated on Wednesday 27 January 2021,

[8] Chao-Fong L and Demianyk G, Revealed: Tory-Linked Private Firm Awarded Government Hotel Quarantine Contract, Huffington Post, 19 February 2021,

[9] BBC News, Covid: Scotland 'could go further' on quarantine rules, 27 January 2021,

[10] Scottish Government, Quarantine hotels, 9 February 2021,

[11] Davies C, Quarantine hotel rooms are 'like a prison', BBC News, 17 February 2021,

[12] BBC News, Coronavirus: New Irish travel rules will affect NI passengers, 26 January 2021,

[13] The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Government to gazette specifications in relation to Designated Quarantine Hotel Scheme and further announce detailed arrangement, press release, 15 December 2020,

[14] The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Designated Hotels for Quarantine,

[15] Ministry of Buiness, Innovation and Employment, Managed isolation and quarantine,

[18] GOV.UK, Foreign travel advice: South Korea,

[19] Embassy of the Republic of Korea to the Republic of Singapore, Temporary Suspension of ROK-Singapore Fast Lane, 31 January 2021,

[20] Taiwan Centers for Disease Control, Inbound travelers from Southeast Asia should notify health officials before returning to Taiwan and stay at quarantine hotels if they live with persons with chronic disease, the elderly and children, press release, 18 April 2020,

[21] The Bureau of Consular Affairs is the agency of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China, Entry restrictions for foreigners to Taiwan in response to COVID-19 outbreak, 8 February 2021,

[22] GOV.UK, Foreign travel advice: Taiwan,


Johnson government
Institute for Government

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