The new online booking system for government-managed quarantine hotels suffered technical problems within hours of it going live.
Some users hoping to book their hotel quarantine stays from next week, as part of tougher COVID border measures, were soon met with a message that the new online portal was undergoing “maintenance” until 3pm on Thursday.
Problems were also discovered with availability for the first two days of the new quarantine policy, which is due to come into force on Monday.
Sky News found that no hotels were immediately available at any of the eight sites for 15 and 16 February. However, quarantine packages – which will be required for those returning from 33 “red list” countries – could be booked from 17 February.
The website’s “maintenance” also appeared to be preventing some people from booking the two extra COVID tests required of all arrivals to the UK from next week.
Under the new border measures being introduced, those arriving from all countries – not just those on the “red list” – will now be required to take a test on days two and eight after their arrival in the UK, as part of a 10-day quarantine period.
These will cost £210 per person in total and are part of efforts to prevent the spread of new COVID variants in the UK.
Responding to the problems with the online portal, Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “It is extremely worrying that even the limited hotel quarantine booking system is showing signs of failing from the outset.
“Over a year into this pandemic and 50 days on from the discovery of the South African strain, there are no excuses for yet more government incompetence in the introduction of hotel quarantine.
“Ministers must act to fix this urgently.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Rooms are available from Monday 15 February and travellers will be able to book through the site imminently.
“The website is undergoing maintenance to correct a minor technical issue.”
A 10-day hotel quarantine package, which includes accommodation, food and the cost of transport from an airport to the hotel, costs £1,750 for one adult in one room.
There is an additional charge of £650 per adult or child over 12, or £325 for a child aged between five and 12.
According to government guidance published on Thursday, there will be an opportunity for those who receive income-related benefits to apply for a deferred repayment plan when booking.
The guidance also warns, if someone tests positive for coronavirus on day two of their quarantine, they will need to quarantine for 12 days but will not need to take any further tests.
If someone tests positive on or after day eight of their stay, they will be required to quarantine for a total of 18 days.
And if, despite a negative test on day eight, someone develops new coronavirus symptoms on day nine or day 10, this would trigger a further test and extended quarantine for 10 days, if the new test is positive.
— to news.sky.com