Let me out!
(Not an actual UK hotel quarantine room.) (Getty)
  • The British government is locking some of its citizens returning from South Africa in freezing hotel rooms with terrible food, at a cost starting at around R50,000.
  • In one case, a woman was separated from her family, at huge extra expense.
  • In another case, a man with a nut allergy went into shock after his hotel kept feeding him nuts.
  • The UK imposed the quarantine system for fear of the Omicron variant.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

The United Kingdom has lost its war against the Omicron variant, which a top scientific advisor now expects to be the dominant form of coronavirus in that country before Christmas.

With known Omicron cases rising rapidly in London – and very few extra precautions introduced to prevent community spread from there – the country now knows it has failed to stop the variant at its border.

But it is still subjecting its residents and citizens returning from South Africa to what some describe as not much short of torture, through an expensive and shambolic system of hotel quarantine rapidly put into place for fear of Omicron.

Horror stories to emerge this week have included that of Richard Lace, who went into anaphylactic shock after he ate "two mouthfuls of a rice dish" at his Heathrow quarantine hotel, The Guardian reported.

Lace was released from quarantine early on medical grounds after an ambulance crew spent two hours with him, because his hotel had continuously ignored his warnings that he was allergic to nuts, the paper said.

The cost for a single adult for the 11 nights of required quarantine is £2,285, the equivalent of some R4,300 per night.

Families get a discount, but that did not work out for Jennie Bianco, who, the BBC reported, had to stay more than 150km away from her husband and son when they returned from South Africa, because a large enough family room could not be found.

Bianco spent nearly R17,000 for a change of flights and to stay longer in South Africa, because no such family room was available. But, when the family arrived, there was still no family accommodation available for them. That cost the family another R18,000 extra, and separated her from her six-year-old son.

More common are stories of freezing hotel rooms (amid a series of winter storms) and what actor Richard E Grant characterised as "grim" food in since-deleted tweets detailing his experience, after a visit to his 90-year-old mother in South Africa.

British citizens and residents, the only people allowed to travel from southern Africa to the UK, have reported they could not book hotel quarantine at all, or hotel rooms were not ready when they arrived.

They have described the entire system as appalling, poorly managed, and poorly thought-through. Not least of all because on arrival from red-listed countries, those who may be carrying the Omicron variant are kept in airport arrivals halls for hours with others not subject to quarantine.

The UK government is said to be deeply concerned about Omicron's fast rate of spread, and to be considering new in-country measures to hold back what may be a dire new wave of Covid-19 cases.

There has been no word on when or even whether the red list, and associated hotel quarantine, for travellers from South Africa will be dismantled. 

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

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