COVID-19: Stranded British travelers face Christmas in quarantine hotels | Business news

British travelers in South Africa face the prospect of spending Christmas in quarantine hotels where there are not enough rooms to accommodate the number of people currently trying to return.

Many also face costs of thousands of pounds as they have to rebook flights and extend their stay within limited room availability.

One woman was told there were no free rooms until December 22, and other families who found themselves stuck in the sudden change of rules and hotel reservation system described it as “messy” and “unfit for purpose”.

Hannah Pickersgill (far right in red) and her family are on vacation in South Africa for her sister's wedding.
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Hannah Pickersgill (far right) traveled to South Africa with her family to attend a wedding

They accuse the government of being completely unwilling to support those caught up in the changes.

Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper has called on the government to urgently address the situation.

South Africa and nine other countries in South Africa have been re-added to the travel red list this week to try to tackle the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid19.

The flights were direct from South Africa It was initially blocked Since a week.

Travelers from Red List countries are required to isolate in designated quarantine hotels for a period of 10 days at their own expense.

But many now say they can’t get a reservation on the exact day of their flights.

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Airport chief criticizes ‘panic’ by governments

Passengers can be fined £4,000 for arriving in the UK from one of the Red List countries without actually booking a quarantined hotel.

“It was awful, just awful,” says Teresa Martin, who is originally from South Africa and traveled to spend time with her elderly mother, whom she had not seen in two years.

She was supposed to return on 8 December, but her husband, who called the reservation management company on her behalf from the UK, has now been told that the service will not be available until 22 December.

This will mean that she will have to spend Christmas and New Years in a quarantine hotel.

“The trip itself was really emotional,” she said.

“That disruption to booking, changing the flight and then arranging, figuring out where you get your PCR tests and driving the 10 miles to go and book them. That has its effect.”

She has the added concern that if she had to stay in South Africa for a long time, she might run out of the medications she takes for rheumatoid arthritis.

On top of stress and emotion, families also face huge bills.

The cost of a 10-day stay in the Quarantine Hotel is £2,285 for an adult in a single room, with an additional £1,430 per adult and £325 per child between 5 and 11 years old in the same room.

Many also have to pay to rearrange flights to try to fit in with the days the hotel is available, as well as pay for extended hotel days in South Africa.

Such is the situation faced by Hannah Pickersgill and her family, who traveled to Cape Town for a family wedding with her husband, two children, mother and brother.

She was due to return on December 4th but was only able to get a hotel as of December 6. It subsequently struggled to rearrange its flights for that date due to high demand.

“It means my kids won’t be back in school now until January, and my son is very worried about that,” she said.

“It has made my mom very ill. She is very nervous. We have wasted a lot of time and money trying to solve it.”

“I can’t say enough… the inefficiency of not having enough hotel rooms for returning travelers.”

She and others also criticized Corporate Travel Management (CTM), the private company contracted to manage hotel reservations, with many saying they struggled to communicate by phone.

Nic Bowler and his family were able to get a reservation at the hotel, but their flights were later changed by the Virgin and they struggle to reach anyone to confirm if the hotel reservation could be moved.

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Omicron wave not ruled out

“I totally understand that it’s a pandemic, and I totally understand that things are changing,” he said.

“But the process the government has described is not fit for purpose, and it’s cumbersome because it really takes up family time.”

While there are well over 4,000 stone rooms available, the system isn’t as big as it was during the summer when more countries were on the red list.

The Arora Hotel Group at that time offered about 2,500 rooms in eight different hotels but currently offers only about 1,500 rooms in three hotels.

Founder and CEO Surinder Arora said it took a lot of effort from his staff to get these hotels ready and ready in a few days after the surprise announcement last week.

“I think if you ask one of the big brands or one of the big companies, they will tell you we need at least a week or two to pack up,” he said.

Transforming a hotel includes things like acquiring specialized cleaning equipment, clearing existing reservations and dramatically increasing room service capabilities.

“There is a lot of planning that has been planned and you know, especially in the current climate where you can’t even get all the deliveries on time, whether it’s from laundry, whether it’s food or staff, all of those are big issues,” Mr. Arora said. .

Surinder Arora came to the UK when he was 13 years old
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Hotel owner Surinder Arora provides quarantine hotel rooms

The Department of Health and Social Care previously said: “We are closely monitoring the managed quarantine service to ensure we have sufficient capacity for those coming from the Red List countries.

“We are rapidly increasing capacity in light of adding 10 counties to the red list and expect to have more rooms online this week.”

In a statement, CTM said: “CTM is working closely with the 10 countries that were recently added to the red list where direct flights to the UK were initially banned.

“Frequent airline cancellations and the return of direct flights result in a large number of change requests from travelers returning to the UK.

“Since implementing recent changes to the Red List to slow the spread of the new Omicron variant, more than 2,800 travelers have successfully booked managed quarantine.

“CTM is working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care and all relevant parties in the UK’s managed quarantine program to ensure that transfers, accommodations, testing and security are scaled up to capacity as quickly as possible.”

Labour’s Yvette Cooper said: “The government needs to sort this out urgently.

“They shouldn’t be in such a chaotic situation 18 months into this pandemic when they know all the time that they need quick contingency plans to deal with new waves of the virus or new variables.”

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