Cabinet “hawks” – Priti Patel, Mr Hancock and Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove – are pressing for tougher measures modelled on Australia and New Zealand, while the “doves”, including Rishi Sunak and Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, fear severe economic damage from such moves.
The Covid-O committee will consider options including closure of the borders, “quarantine hotels”, at which travellers would have to pay a share of the costs, and forcing people to self-isolate for the full 10 days by scrapping the opportunity to test and release on the fifth day.
The Government is already in talks with hotel groups including Marriott and IHG, which owns Holiday Inns, to house quarantining passengers. Ministers will also consider requiring by law that quarantining passengers download a location tracking app to boost compliance.
The moves are allied to an enforcement blitz by Ms Patel, who has ordered Border Force officials to check that every passenger coming into the UK has negative Covid tests taken within 72 hours of departure and locator address forms so they can be traced by health officials and police.
It will mean 15,000 arrivals will be stopped each day and checked, with those without proper paperwork facing £500 fines. Some 320 have been fined since checks started ramping up on Monday. Airlines also face £2,000 fines for any passenger they bring in without the right documentation.
The move is a significant stepping up of enforcement after criticism that the previous “soft touch” regime of checking just one in 10 arrivals’ locator forms is not fit for purpose in face of the raised threat from the new Covid variants.