By Alistair Smout
LONDON, April 9 (Reuters) - Home rental firm Airbnb will block British bookings on its platform for the vast majority of customers on Thursday, allowing only key workers to stay in properties for as long as emergency government coronavirus restrictions are in place.
The move comes after hosts using the site had been criticised for advertising "isolation retreats", with tourism minister Nigel Huddleston saying that property owners were being "incredibly irreponsible".
Airbnb last week barred rentals that were private rooms in shared houses, and disabled the instant book function for whole properties, while offering guests refunds for rooms they no longer wished to take up.
But the latest step drastically tightens who can book stays on the platform.
"Restricting bookings on Airbnb to key workers and other essential stays will allow hosts to continue supporting frontline workers while following government guidance," said Patrick Robinson, Director of Public Policy at Airbnb.
On March 23 Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered Britons to stay at home to slow the spread of coronavirus, and imposed curbs on everyday life without precedent in peacetime.
As part of the restrictions, the government has ordered hotels and other accommodation providers to take steps to close, unless they were providing services to key workers or vulnerable groups.
While listings will still appear on the platform, bookings on Airbnb will be blocked from 9:00 local time (0800 GMT) on Thursday until at least April 18, unless it is for an essential stay.
The government has said it will review lockdown measures next week. Airbnb's policy will be reviewed in line with guidance if the government extends the restrictions.
Last month Airbnb launched a programme to let hosts provide free rooms for health workers, which it said would continue and requires eligible staff to register separately on the site through their employer.
The company will now also work to maintain access for others who are legimitately exempt from the curbs.
(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Estelle Shirbon)
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