Clients are asking travel agents for assistance to bypass the UK government’s newly introduced hotel quarantine for ‘red-listed’ countries, including South Africa.
The ruling was introduced on February 15 and a 10-day quarantine for one adult costs approximately R36 000. To avoid paying these exorbitant rates (and to avoid what might be the less-than-pleasant experience of spending ten days in a hotel room close to Heathrow), some clients are asking agents to help them as they look at spending 10 days in a UK green-listed country before flying to the UK through travel corridors that do not require quarantine.
Owner of XL HalloWorld Travel, Linda Wattrus, said many UK passport holders, residents and students were looking for ways to avoid the hotel quarantine, as the costs were extremely high. According to Linda, Ethiopia and Egypt currently rank as two of the most popular way stations to allow individuals travelling from South Africa to bypass the UK quarantine.
But Linda pointed out that it was important that clients were warned that there was some risk involved in this option, as there was no guarantee that the country in which they waited out the 10 days would not suddenly appear on the UK’s red list before or during the period of travel. If this were to happen, the client would have to pay for their stay in the green-listed country and then fork out more money for the UK hotel quarantine on arrival.
Another agent, who wished to be unnamed, shared an extract of the email correspondence that she was sending to clients who were contacting her about how they could avoid quarantine.
“I know a few of you have asked how you can get out of paying for quarantine and, where can you go? We were looking into this but as time has passed, we have also looked at the risk factors. While the UK is unstable at the moment, travelling to another country will be at your own risk. If the UK decides to put that green-list country or all countries on the red list, you will be back where you started and this could lead to it being even more costly. I am not saying that this cannot be done, but I will make you sign your life away with all the terms and conditions. You need to take all scenarios into account. Nothing is guaranteed at the moment,” wrote the agent.
Jenni Davies, marketing manager for British T.I.P.S, agreed and said it was understandable that people didn’t want to be stuck in a hotel for 10 days, but there were some things to bear in mind.
“The UK government hotel quarantine package includes the two tests as well as your accommodation, transport to the hotel from your place of arrival (and back again at the end of quarantine), and three meals per day, so at least those costs are covered. You cannot have been in a red-list country for 10 days prior to arriving in the UK. So, you will need to be in the green-list country for two weeks before you go to the UK,” she said.
Jenni pointed out that people from green-list countries couldn’t simply enter the UK and then go out and about. “They still have to self-quarantine for 10 days after arrival in the UK. And they do check up on you – they’re very strict. Even if you come from a green-list country, self-quarantining people must have two COVID-19 tests (on days 2 and 8 after arrival) for which they must pay themselves;” said Jenni, asking if it was really worth it, considering that one could not do anything for three weeks.
Md of XL Nexus Travel, Sailesh Parbhu, said he was hesitant to facilitate bookings that bypassed regulations, as the UK government had threatened that travellers who failed to follow procedures may face fines.
BBC.com has reported that travellers who fail to quarantine in a government-sanctioned hotel for 10 days face fines of up to £10 000 (R207 000), while thesouthafrican.com has said that travellers from red-list destinations may face fines of up to £4 000 (R82 800) if their UK quarantine hotel stay was not booked before their arrival.
An industry source who wished to remain anonymous said: “Agents want to assist their clients with their requests, but no one can guarantee anything anymore as the situation changes so quickly. It is quite possible that travel restrictions will change post-advice but pre-travel. So agents would be well-advised to ask their clients to sign a disclaimer explaining the risks involved before moving forward with such bookings”, the source said.