UK’s Hotel Quarantine for Travelers Could Amount to ‘Illegal Detention’: Law Firm

January 27, 2021 Updated: January 27, 2021

Britain’s new requirement for travellers to the UK from 22 countries to quarantine in hotels for 10 days could be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), an international law firm has said.

Home Secretary Priti Patel announced the measures on Wednesday, telling Parliament that the government “will introduce a new managed isolation process in hotels for those who cannot be refused entry, including those arriving home, from countries where we have already imposed an international travel ban.”

Under the new rules, Patel said inbound travellers from countries on the travel ban list will be required to isolate in hotels “for 10 days without exception.”

But human rights law firm PGMBM suggested prior to the announcement that if travellers who know, through testing, that they do not have the virus, and are consequently not at risk of transmitting the disease, are made to quarantine in hotels, their rights under Article 5 of the ECHR could be violated.

‘Blanket Imposition’

“These proposals of a blanket imposition of hotel quarantine … raise fundamental questions about the denial of liberty of those subjected to it,” Tom Goodhead, barrister and managing partner at PGMBM, said according to The Telegraph.

London's Heathrow Airport
Travellers arrive at Heathrow Airport in London on July 8, 2020. (Matt Dunham/AP Photo)

“Article 5 of the ECHR specifically states that no one shall be unduly deprived of their liberty,” Goodhead said on Tuesday.

“Whilst there is a provision that may allow the denial of that liberty to prevent the spread of infectious disease, under these proposals inbound travelers would be detained even if they did not test positive for Covid-19.”

He also said that some European states have already considered, but thought better of, imposing such measures because “detention of people without confirmed infection may not be covered by the provisions of Article 5.”

Talking about enforced quarantine of people “without evidence that those people are carrying any variant of Covid-19,” he said that “there is certainly a very credible perspective that this could amount to illegal detention, thus contravening the ECHR.”

The Home Office have not responded to a request for comment by the time of publication.

Hotels Ready?

Rob Paterson, CEO of Best Western Hotels GB, told the BBC’s “Breakfast” program on Tuesday that having provided overflow discharge beds for the National Health Service (NHS), many of his company’s hotels were already set up for a “contactless customer experience” at check-in and “an escorted process into the hotel.”

“You’re in the room, and the detail would explain once you are in the room that you can’t leave,” he said.

“There will be CCTV or security to ensure that’s the case,” he added.

He also said that three meals a day would be delivered outside the room along with bed linen, which quarantined travelers would have to change themselves, before putting their used linen into a sealed bag and placing it outside their door.

Patel said the details of which hotels would be used and how the quarantine would be administered were currently under discussion.

Damian Green, former First Secretary of State and member of Conservative backbench Covid Recovery Group, told the BBC’s “Newsnight” program prior to Patel’s announcement that he hoped any government decision would be “taken on the basis of evidence.”

He also said that curbs are justifiable if they result in the end of lockdowns.

“The British people can take this curtailing of their freedoms and liberties and the way we all want to go about our lives as long as there’s a purpose to the end of it, as long as they can see the end in sight,” he said.

Travel Restrictions

Britain closed its travel corridors from Jan. 15 and banned travel from South America and its commonly used transit point, Portugal, on the same day.

This followed concerns about a new virus strain that emerged in Brazil, which scientists said had similarities to a strain that originated in South Africa, from where travel had already been banned on Jan. 9. Another strain was first identified in southeast England.

All three caused worry over how effective vaccines, seen as key to Britain’s way out of lockdown, would be against them.

The travel bans do not apply to British or Irish nationals or people with UK residency rights, so some travelers from high-risk locations are still potentially entering the country.

Most arrivals into Britain have to show they’d had a negative test within the 72 hrs before setting off for the UK or face a possible £500 ($684) fine.

They have to self-isolate for 10 days but can do so at home or wherever it is they chose to stay. They can be fined up to £10,000 for not doing so, but in England they can halve the isolation period if they had a negative test on day five.

Patel said the Department of Health and Social Care will set out further details of the new  hotel-based quarantine measures next week.

Regulations for travelers to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are set separately but are very similar to England’s rules.

The UK has the world’s fifth worst death toll from the pandemic, with official data showing on Tuesday that 100,162 people have died within 28 days of a positive test.

Simon Veazey, Alexander Zhang, and Reuters contributed to this report.