Travellers may have be forced to wait in ‘totally unacceptable’ queues for up to five hours and will be free to mix with passengers from ‘red list’ countries as the Government’s quarantine hotels plan comes into force today.
Heathrow Airport warned of long queues at Border Control and said there were no protocols in place to segregate passengers from the 33 high-risk countries from others despite the stringent quarantine measures being introduced.
It is feared the safety of up to 8,000 passengers a day could be compromised as airport staff carry out extra checks on those entering the country.
It comes as union bosses yesterday warned the new system, which will see all passengers from the ‘red list’ countries having to quarantine for ten days in a hotel, will not be enough to stop the mutant variants from spreading.
Travellers may have be forced to queue for up to five hours as the Government’s quarantine hotels comes into force today. Pictured: Passengers arrive at Terminal 5 international at Heathrow Airport
Passengers wear face masks as they queue at the UK’s Border Control in Heathrow Airport
Travellers wait in queues as they prepare to check in at Terminal 2 at Heathrow Airport this month
Officials estimate that checks carried out to see if a traveller has arrived from one of the Government’s ‘red list’ zones could double the standard time taken to 15 minutes per arrival, The Times reports
A Heathrow spokesman told The Times: ‘Our key concern remains the ability of Border Force to cope.
‘Queues at the border in recent days of almost five hours are totally unacceptable.
‘Ministers need to ensure there is adequate resource and effective processes at the border to avoid compromising the safety of passengers and those working at the airport, which could necessitate the suspension of some arriving flights.’
Yesterday frantic travellers made a desperate dash to return to the UK before the rules came into force.
Stephanie Lvovich, 50, and her daughter Ava, 13, who flew into Heathrow Airport from Dubai, told The Sun: ‘We booked a flight as soon as we heard about the hotel quarantine.’
Meanwhile Tom Weston, 24, who arrived from Doha, Qatar, told the paper: ‘I’ve been very keen to get in. I wouldn’t cope well with two weeks in a hotel . . . and the expense.’
From today, passengers arriving from the 33 ‘red list’ countries will be forced to quarantine in designated hotels for 10 days (11 nights).
All guests will have to pay an individual fee of £1,750 for ten nights where they will have to eat airline-style food left at their door, change their own sheets and towels and be accompanied by security if they want fresh air or a cigarette outside.
Ahead of the new rules being introduced, Meher Nawab, chief executive of the London Hotel Group, warned that many airport hotels rely on central air flow systems.
Pointing to Australia’s system – which is currently under review amid an outbreak linked to quarantine hotels – he warned such systems could increase the risk of the virus spreading between guests and hotel staff.
Mr Nawab also warned that airport hotels often use central air conditioning systems – rather than individual units – and sometimes have windows that cannot be opened.
Union chiefs have warned that the quarantine measures were not enough to prevent Covid variants spreading. Pictured: Passengers walk through Terminal 2 at Heathrow Airport
A plane flies over the Renaissance Hotel near Heathrow Airport as it prepares to welcome travellers from the 33 ‘red lis’ countries
Union chiefs meanwhile warned that the quarantine measures were not enough to prevent Covid variants spreading in the UK.
The GMB union, which represents hotel security and staff, also raised concerns about its members interacting with arrivals from ‘red listed’ countries which are included in the quarantine hotel scheme.
Nadine Houghton, GMB national officer, told The Observer: ‘If you’ve got people getting off planes from the red list countries, then being crammed into areas with passengers who aren’t going into quarantine – and staff as well – you’ve failed at the first hurdle.
‘Our members working at, the ground staff, security staff, have been raising concerns about this for two weeks now. Heathrow just isn’t safe at the moment.’
Despite the rising criticism Matt Hancock insisted: ‘The rules coming into force today will bolster the quarantine system and provide another layer of security against new variants at the border.’
This month analysis carried out by the World Health Organisation found dozens of countries where the highly-infectious South African and Brazilian variants had been found were not on the list.
They included Austria, Denmark, France, Greece, Japan, Kenya, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Canada and the United States.
Labour Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds reacted with fury at the news, branding the Government’s quarantine measures ‘dangerously inadequate’.
While former Labour leader Ed Miliband told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: ‘At the moment the government is proposing a quarantine system that covers just five per cent of arrivals that happen each day in the UK.
‘That is not an effective quarantine system.’
It came as Jeane Freeman, the Scottish health secretary, said UK ministers’ refusal to help track arrivals who cross from England into Scotland was ‘deeply disappointing’.
Ms Freeman said would fo ahead with plans for checks at the border in Scotland after no agreement was reached in talks on Thursday night.
The majority of those required to quarantine will arrive at Heathrow, but bosses yesterday said there were ‘significant gaps’ about how the scheme would operate remain
It came as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also warned that police in Scotland could be asked to ‘do more than they’re doing right now’ to make sure travellers were not trying to cross the border.
Speaking at a coronavirus briefing, Ms Freeman said: ‘It’s deeply disappointing that as part of a family of equals, one partner isn’t prepared to help the other partner enforce the policy that they think is the right policy for the people they represent.
‘The discussions will continue, because we are, as we have always been, keen where we can to reach a four-nation approach to deal with a virus that doesn’t respect boundaries and borders.
‘But in the meantime, we will work through what the options are to mitigate where the UK government stance creates a loophole.
‘We can’t have people coming in, getting on public transport, coming to Scotland and we don’t know about that and they are not required to quarantine in way that we can’t manage so we have to consider what our options are about that land border.’
How will the new border rules work?
Matt Hancock has announced details of the tougher border measures to MPs.
TEN YEARS IN PRISON
Mr Hancock said that arrivals who lie on their passenger locator forms about visiting ‘hot spot’ countries, in order to avoid hotel quarantine, face up to a decade in prison.
It affects British arrivals from 33 countries deemed high risk of new variants. Nationals of those countries will be refused entry to the UK and most direct flights have already been banned.
The countries include all of South America, large parts of Africa – including South Africa – and the United Arab Emirates.
Arrivals from Red List nations will have to quarantine at a Government-designated hotel for 10 days.
It will cost the travellers £1,750 each, although the Government is paying the upfront cost and will bill them afterwards.
Attempts to break out of the quarantine before the 10 days are up could result in a fine of up to £10,000.
They are not eligible for the five-day ‘test and release’ scheme.
None of the 16 hotels involved in Number 10’s quarantine plan have been named for ‘commercial reasons’.
REPEATED COVID TESTS
Red List arrivals will be required to test negative for coronavirus 72 hours before departure, using a kit that meets UK government standards.
They will be tested again on day two and day eight of quarantine, with costs included in the wider charge of the hotel stay.
NON-RED LIST ARRIVALS
The same requirement for a negative test result 72 hours before departure applies.
Once in the UK, they must isolate for 10 days at home or in private accommodation, with the authorities able to check that they are obeying the rules.
Tests will be required on day two and day eight of isolation, and must be booked through a government portal in advance of travel. The portal will be launched on Thursday.
The costs are not yet known but PCR tests typically cost around £120 a time.
TEST AND RELEASE
The test and release scheme – which allows non-‘red list travellers’ to leave isolation if they test negative after five days is staying in place. Many essential business travellers are likely to take this option.
However, Mr Hancock suggested even though they will not be subject to quarantine after the five-day test, they will still be required to have tests on day two and days eight. That means they could be screened four times in total.