Hotel quarantine cost taxpayers £400m – but how many COVID cases did it prevent?

UK hotel quarantine
By Linsey McNeill
21/04/2022
Home » Hotel quarantine cost taxpayers £400m – but how many COVID cases did it prevent?

The UK’s hotel quarantine scheme lost £400m, even though arrivals from red list countries who were forced to pay up to £2,285 per person for 10 days in hotel frequently complained that the food was dire and the service poor.

The £757m scheme, launched in April 2021, was supposed to break even, but the Government has managed to recover less than half the total cost.

A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) suggests the final bill to the taxpayer could be even higher than £400m as, on 1 March, the Government was still owed £74m by arrivals, with no guarantee they’ll all pay up.

Fraud was a major problem with the scheme, which ran for 10 months in 2021.

The Government’s spending watchdog found that some people who used the quarantine facilities later successfully claimed ‘chargebacks’.

The Department for Health and Social Security said that nearly £18m of the refunds issued by Corporate Travel Management (CTM), which was contracted to book hotels, transport and tests for arrivals from red-list countries, were fraudulent.

Only two chargeback cases have been investigated.

The NAO also found that organised gangs were selling ‘half-price’ quarantine packages on social media, then using stolen credit cards to book hotel rooms with CTM.

How many COVID cases did the hotel quarantine scheme prevent?

The hotel quarantine scheme was used to isolate 214,000 arrivals from red list countries between 15 February and mid-December last year.

While the Department for Health and Social Security said it hasn’t been able to determine how many COVID cases were prevented by the scheme, between 15 February and mid-December 2021, only 2% of quarantined guests tested positive.

From 9-15 December, during the Omicron wave, 6% of all tests taken from guests were positive.

The NAO report said the Government ‘has an opportunity to learn lessons from its experience of implementing cross-border travel measures during the COVID-19 pandemic should such measures be needed in the future’.

Gareth Davies, the Head of the NAO, added: “After two years of the pandemic and following the recent removal of travel restrictions, the Government has an opportunity to ensure that it develops a systematic approach to managing any future travel measures, applying the learning from COVID-19.”

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