The United Kingdom is ramping up plans to introduce its own hotel quarantine program as its coronavirus death toll hit a grim milestone overnight.
The UK recorded a further 1,631 deaths on Tuesday (local time), taking its overall toll to over 100,000 deaths.
It is the fifth highest death toll, while its 3.7 million confirmed cases ranks in the same position globally.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke of the devastating effects of such a figure, while he said his government will “make sure we learn the lessons” from a torrid first year of the pandemic.
"It's hard to compute the sorrow contained in that grim statistic, the years of life lost, the family gatherings not attended, and for so many relatives the missed chance, even to say goodbye," Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.
However, his chief medical officer, Chris Witty, warned the public to expect further tragedy.
"Unfortunately we're going to see quite a lot more deaths over the next few weeks before the effects of the vaccines begin to be felt," he said.
UK government considers hotel quarantine program
The Johnson government, which has faced intense criticism over its handling of the pandemic, is now weighing up a hotel quarantine program similar to Australia’s in a desperate bid to curtail the spread of highly-infectious strains from overseas.
Yet plans for the program have been met with widespread anger, with many people saying it has come far too late into the pandemic.
Months after Australia implemented its quarantine program on March 28, 2019, the UK allowed its residents to freely travel abroad during the summer, with many taking advantage of the freedom despite the global pandemic.
“We were one of the slowest countries to take any measures on our borders.” Opposition Leader Keir Starmer said on Tuesday.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has now warned Brits to anticipate no such freedom in 2021.
The UK’s scheme would involve quarantine for 10 days and would quarantine arrivals from South America, much of southern Africa and Portugal due to its number of transit passengers, the BBC reported.
The list of countries is not yet definitive and could still include further nations.
Like Australia’s scheme, it would come at a cost to those quarantined. The cost per person is expected to be in excess of £1000 ($1772), The Guardian reported.
Quarantine plan slammed as ‘pointless’
The news has not gone down well with large swathes of the UK population or the airline industry.
The bosses of airlines including British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and easyJet criticised the plan and called for a support package.
"Policy should be based on evidence, and we have seen no compelling scientific evidence that introducing a policy potentially of blanket quarantine in hotels, is necessary in addition to measures only recently introduced," they wrote in a letter to Mr Johnson.
Television presenter Kirstie Allsopp was among those criticising the plan, calling the move “pointless”.
“If you do it when your rates are very low it works eventually, if you do it at this stage it is pointless,” she said on Twitter.
She also said essential imports were likely far higher in the UK than Australia, meaning the border would still not be tightly controlled.
“We are sleep walking into bankruptcy while chanting “It worked in Australia, It worked in Australia” like a bunch of demented lemmings,” she said.
We are sleep walking into bankruptcy while chanting “It worked in Australia, It worked in Australia” like a bunch of demented lemmings.
— Kirstie Allsopp (@KirstieMAllsopp) January 25, 2021
Author Rae Earl said the move 10 months after Australia was far too late.
“We’ve got to stop equating academic ability/privilege with the ability to MANAGE & LEAD,” she said.
Thousands flocked to social media saying the decision is far too late.
“It should have been introduced last year.. [it] would have saved so many lives,” one person wrote.
Johnson says he ‘did everything he could’
Their comments came after Mr Johnson told the nation "we did everything that we could to minimise suffering and minimise loss of life in this country as a result of the pandemic".
An announcement on the scheme is expected Wednesday (local time).
It is understood it will take three weeks to prepare the program, with airport hotels surrounding Heathrow airport touted as the possible location for returned travellers.
Yet Financial Times Whitehall Editor Sebastian Payne questioned whether those facilities had the capacity for the 8000 people coming into the UK daily.
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