Border Force says it can’t stop travellers ‘legging it’ from airports


Border officials have have warned that they are powerless to stop people dodging quarantine, and have criticised the government’s ‘shambolic’ border policy.

Britain risks becoming a ‘super-spreader’ because of how relaxed the rules are, they said, adding that they are unable to stop people from ‘legging it’ from airport terminals to avoid having to quarantine upon their arrival.

Border staff told The Times that they have been given limited power to detain people at the border, and have been given no guidance on where to direct individuals after they have entered the country, risking people spreading virus variants further.

Scientists have also said the rules for those quarantined in hotels are also too lax. 

Border officials have have warned that they are powerless to stop people dodging quarantine, and have criticised the government’s ‘shambolic’ policy. Pictured: People wait by the arrivals exit at Heathrow airport

On Friday night – barely 48 hours before new rules come into effect on Monday – the government finally published the new quarantine rules for people arriving from 33 ‘red list’ countries.

Lucy Moreton, a professional officer at the Immigration Services Union, told The Times that the quarantine policy was ‘chaotic, shambolic and risks turning into a superspreader.’

‘We’ve got no information on what we do if someone doesn’t fill out their passenger location forms,’ she said, or what to do ‘if they turn up at an airport which is not a designated airport.’

She added that once border staff are satisfied an individual qualifies for entry into the country, ‘the only provision we’ve got is the Coronavirus Act, which requires that you obey a reasonable instruction from a border officer.

‘But what happens if they leg it?’ she asked. ‘Are we supposed to chase?’

On Friday, a government source told the newspaper that Border Force will have the power to detain and search individuals that are suspected of lying on their forms for up to three hours.

The regulation allows police to break into homes of people they suspect of breaking the hotel quarantine rooms. 

UK nationals or residents returning to England from 33 countries will be forced to spend 10 days in Government-designated accommodation from Monday.

The law sets out new requirements for people to book their ‘managed self-isolation package’ which includes a hotel, transport and testing.

People must quarantine in the room but exceptions allowing them to leave include the need for urgent medical assistance, to exercise or attend the funeral of a close family member.

They will also be allowed outside to get fresh air or have a cigarette break – and will only need to get hotel staff permission.  

Although the government hasn’t revealed which hotels will house the quarantine passengers, Novotel on Bath Road near Heathrow is thought to be one of them

The regulations state that leaving for these exceptional reasons should only happen if the person ‘has been given prior permission by a person authorised by the secretary of state for this purpose’.

People may only arrive into Heathrow Airport, Gatwick Airport, London City Airport, Birmingham Airport, Farnborough Airport or any military airfield or port, the legislation states.

Travellers are required to have booked a ‘testing package’, which includes provision for a test on days two and eight of their quarantine.

The accompanying explanatory memorandum to the legislation says travellers ‘can only leave managed quarantine or self-isolation once they have received a negative result from their day eight test and quarantined until the end of the 10-day period’.

Passengers arriving into England face fines of up to £10,000 for failing to quarantine, and those who lie on their passenger locator forms face up to 10 years in jail, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced earlier this week.

The cost for a quarantine hotel stay is £1,750 for a single adult.

The Thistle Hotel, by Heathrow Terminal, is another thought to have been approached by the government

The Thistle Hotel, by Heathrow Terminal, is another thought to have been approached by the government

The regulations say the secretary of state or a person designated by him ‘may impose a charge in relation to the accommodation, transport and testing package’ and that the secretary of state ‘may recover any sum owed by P (the traveller) pursuant to such a charge as a debt’.

Guidance published by the Government on Thursday said people on income-related benefits can apply for a deferred repayment plan when making their quarantine package booking and repay the cost in 12 monthly instalments. 

But the country risks running out of hotel rooms by Thursday, with just 4,600 rooms available to the quarantine scheme – despite a government esimation that 1,400 people a day could arrive in Britain from high-risk countries.

But on Friday, a Number 10 spokesperson insisted that to service can be expanded ‘as needed, adding hotels and rooms as required.’ 

Human rights barrister Adam Wagner, who studies coronavirus rules and tries to simplify them for the public, had led an outpouring of anger against the government over the timing of the legislation’s publication so close to the rules becoming law. 

He tweeted: ‘Inexcusable that these have been published *zero* working days before they come into force and will not be scrutinised by Parliament at all before they do.’

Writer and filmmaker Laura Dodsworth added: ‘The new detention, I mean ‘hotel quarantine’, regulations have just been published, ZERO working days before they come into force. 

‘MPs should be UP IN ARMS. No Parliamentary debate or vote. 

‘People will be put in detention for being *potentially infectious* & have to pay for it!’ 

The legislation, called the Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) (England) (Amendment) (No. 7) Regulations 2021, comes into force at 4am on Monday. 

No10 admits ‘quarantine hotel’ rules are looser than Australia and people only need permission from hotel staff to leave rooms for ‘gulp of fresh air’ or cigarette – while booking site is STILL offline just days before first UK arrivals are due to check in

 By James Tapsfield, Political Editor and Martin Robinson, Chief Reporter for MailOnline

No10 has admitted people in ‘hotel quarantine’ will only need permission from staff to go outside and exercise amid fears the scheme is already facing meltdown – with travellers still unable to book rooms just days before it is due to come into force. 

The government portal is still not live with less than 72 hours left to go until the first people are due to check in. A message on the website blames a ‘minor technical issue’ and admits it will not be available until ‘later today’.

Despite the chaos Home Secretary Priti Patel insisted this morning that the arrangements for arrivals from ‘red list’ countries will be ‘up and running’ on schedule, although she pointedly stressed it is the responsibility of Health Secretary Matt Hancock. 

The confusion came as Downing Street defended the fact that the rules are less strict than in other countries such as Australia, where ‘red list’ guests are not allowed out of their rooms and staff are tested daily to stop the spread of Covid including new strains from abroad.

The Government has been accused of ‘not learning the lessons’ after several hotel outbreaks when workers fell ill, and a flurry of new cases that pushed Melbourne into a five-month lockdown after guests and staff mingled. 

By contrast, in the UK those paying £1,750 to quarantine in hotels for 10 days will be allowed to leave their rooms to walk and smoke outside as long as they are accompanied by security – a rule scrapped Down Under after it was blamed for spreading the virus.

Asked if it was up to ‘the discretion of hotel staff’ whether people in quarantine could go outside a spokesman for the PM said: ‘That’s correct, yes. Travellers must quarantine inside their rooms for 10 days. They are allowed outside for exercise with permission from hotel staff, so that is correct.’

Asked if it was ‘unfair’ to put this pressure on hotel staff, he added: ‘the measures that we are putting in place are in line with other countries who are taking this approach.’ 

Home Office minister Victoria Atkins said it was reasonable to let people to have a ‘gulp of fresh air’ outside during a stay of that length. 

There are also concerns about a lack of daily testing for staff after people got ill delivering meals and guarding corridors – and not insisting on high-grade masks with filters in all areas of the hotel. In the UK only a surgical mask is required. 

Meanwhile, the huge uncertainty for travellers was underlined with warnings that the ‘red list’ could be expanded with almost no notice if a threat from a variant is identified in another country.

And footage has shown arrivals at the border are already queuing for hours and rowing with frustrated staff. 

The government portal is still not live with less than 72 hours left to go until the first people are due to check in. A message on the website blames a 'minor technical issue' and admits it will not be available until 'later today'

The government portal is still not live with less than 72 hours left to go until the first people are due to check in. A message on the website blames a ‘minor technical issue’ and admits it will not be available until ‘later today’

The three-star Ibis Styles London Heathrow East hotel will be one of England's quarantine hotels but there are concerns about the rules not being strict enough

The three-star Ibis Styles London Heathrow East hotel will be one of England’s quarantine hotels but there are concerns about the rules not being strict enough

Despite the chaos Home Secretary Priti Patel insisted this morning that the arrangements for arrivals from 'red list' countries will be 'up and running' on schedule

Despite the chaos Home Secretary Priti Patel insisted this morning that the arrangements for arrivals from ‘red list’ countries will be ‘up and running’ on schedule

How UK hotel quarantine compares to Australia

WHO HAS TO QUARANTINE IN A HOTEL?

All arrivals in Australia, except for some from New Zealand. 

In England, only those who have recently been in a ‘banned list’ country such as South Africa and the UAE. But Scotland is sending all arrivals from outside the UK and Ireland into hotels.

LENGTH OF QUARANTINE  

14 days in Australia, 10 in Britain. 

VIRUS TESTING

In Victoria, people are tested on day 3 and day 11. In New South Wales, it is day 2 and day 12. 

In Britain, people must get a test ‘on or before day 2’ and ‘on or after day 8’. 

Neither country allows people to leave early if they test negative.  

CAN PEOPLE LEAVE THEIR ROOMS?

In Australia, not unless they have an emergency or a medical reason. 

The UK government says hotel staff can give people permission to exercise but that ‘this is not guaranteed’. 

MEAL DELIVERY  

Australia has introduced staggered meal times to reduce the chance of guests inadvertently coming into contact when they open their doors. 

Britain merely says that room service will follow ‘best practice’, according to a document seen by BBC News. 

PROTECTION FOR HOTEL STAFF

Hotel staff in Victoria have to wear medical-grade N95 masks, which are also being considered for guests. 

The UK policy only calls for standard surgical masks.     

Scientists voiced concerns about the strength of the hotel quarantine arrangements as leaked document obtained by the BBC revealed:

  • British quarantine hotel guests will be allowed to leave their rooms and go outside with security – despite it being banned in other countries after mingling was reported and the virus spread;
  • Masks worn by UK guests and staff do not have to be at the same FFP2 standard in Australia. Only a standard surgical mask is required; 
  • Staff won’t be tested every day. In Australia all hotel workers are, even on their days off, and are paid for it; 
  • In Australia food is now delivered at different times to rooms across from each other after a woman from Singapore is believed to have caught Covid from the Nigerian family opposite when their doors were open at the same time. The UK policy does not say this will be the rule here; 

In Australia they have had quarantine in hotels for 12 months, and have learned some ‘harsh lessons’ – but Britain could be about to repeat some of them, experts have said.

Professor Mike Toole, from the Australian Centre for International Health at Burnet Institute in Victoria, told the BBC that allowing people to leave their rooms ‘is a very risky procedure’, as is not using proper masks.

He said: ‘We have had a situation where a hotel guest infected staff when she opened the door and a fog of virus was pushed from the room by positive pressure into the corridor, infecting staff’. 

And in another warning for the UK he added: ‘One all hotel staff are employed by the Government so they can’t have second or third jobs and therefore can’t spread it from workplace to workplace’.    

From Monday, travellers who have been in a country on the Covid hotspot ‘red list’ in the previous ten days are required to quarantine for 11 nights upon arrival. They must book a hotel ‘package’ online before flying into the UK and face being banned from boarding if they can’t show proof.   

They will also face a £4,000 fine if they fail to book a quarantine hotel before travel and extra police are set to patrol airports to help enforce the scheme. Officers will escort arrivals on to coaches so travellers can be taken to the places they are designated to stay.

But yesterday the link to the booking system on the Government website crashed, saying that ‘due to a minor technical issue’ the link would not be available until later in the day.

It has still not gone live today, and the Department of Health did not respond to questions about when it might be working again. 

The site had initially said no hotel rooms were available until Wednesday next week – despite the scheme coming into force on Monday.

In a phone-in on LBC radio this morning, Ms Patel conceded there had also been problems with the booking system for tests. From Monday arrivals to the UK from all countries must have pre-booked two Covid tests.   

A three-star Ibis will be among the hotels welcoming Heathrow arrivals as part of the government's travel quarantine programme, MailOnline can reveal. Pictured is one of the twin bedrooms

The IBIS welcoming Heathrow arrivals from Monday as part of the government’s travel quarantine programme, MailOnline can reveal. Pictured is one of the twin bedrooms 

There was chaos at Heathrow again yesterday as queues of strangers formed with little social distancing because of a lack of staff

There was chaos at Heathrow again yesterday as queues of strangers formed with little social distancing because of a lack of staff 

Ms Patel urged people to ‘persevere’ with the Government’s testing website after a woman raised fears she will not be able to travel back from the US because of issues.

An LBC radio listener said she is a UK citizen married to a US citizen and is due to return from the States on February 22 but has been unable to book a test.

The Home Secretary responded: ‘I do understand there have been problems with the testing package website, which I think was launched yesterday.

‘I’ve been told it was back up and running this morning so please persevere with this.

‘This is a fresh website clearly.’

Ms Atkins said it is ‘reasonable’ to allow travellers quarantining in hotels a ‘gulp of fresh air’, despite an epidemiologist warning it is ‘risky’.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We have to look at our own measures in our own country.

‘The hotel will of course be adhering to all of the very strict measures that we have in place in relation to social distancing and face masks and so on.

‘So I think allowing someone a gulp of fresh air… apart from anything else, we know that being outside is less likely to transmit than being inside.

‘But I think allowing someone a gulp of fresh air during a 10-day visit in a hotel, with all the very strict measures that we have, I think is reasonable – but of course we will keep these measures under review.’

She added: ‘We are confident that the measures that we have in place, ready to go on Monday, are strong and that they will help to protect our country against any of these new variants that are being found.’

Arrivals at the border described a scene of ‘absolute bedlam’ yesterday as they lingered in queues for more than four hours while stretched officials lost their cool and lamented: ‘We have not got any more staff!’

Days before a tough hotel quarantine regime is enforced, Heathrow Airport was swamped with passengers trying to enter the UK. 

Footage shows one border force official telling an impatient passenger it was taking up to 30 minutes to wave through a single person.

Pictures show a line of visibly frustrated arrivals snaking back dozens of rows, while some slump on the floor and take off their masks.

Dylan Carter, 23, whose girlfriend was coming back from Ukraine, told MailOnline: ‘It’s absolute bedlam. They’ve been stuck in queues for four hours. Officers have been shouting at the crowds saying things like ‘you chose to travel’.

He said his girlfriend landed at Terminal 2 at 11am and only eventually passed through security at around 5pm.

Mr Carter blamed the wait on a scramble from passengers to avoid the beefed-up border controls the Government is introducing from Monday.

Police patrols at airports stepped up for start of hotel quarantine scheme 

Police patrols will be stepped up at airports and ports as hotel quarantine rules for travellers come into force, the Home Secretary said.

From Monday, UK nationals or residents returning from 33 ‘red list’ countries will be required to spend 10 days in a Government-designated hotel.

Passengers arriving into England face fines of up to £10,000 for failing to quarantine, and those who lie on their passenger locator forms face up to 10 years in jail.

Priti Patel announced more police would be deployed to check the reason for passenger journeys and to help ‘ensure compliance of arrivals from red-list countries who will be part of the mandatory quarantine scheme’.

It comes as she pledged £60 million to police forces in England and Wales to cover the extra costs of enforcing coronavirus pandemic rules.

Forces will be reimbursed for costs they have already incurred as a result of their additional duties and also fund fresh enforcement action planned at airports and ports.

And a video sees an irritated border guard berate one of the impatient arrivals suggests it was due to a shortage of staff.

The footage appears to show the male official fume: ‘We have not got any more staff! We have staff isolating, we have staff off with Covid and we have had two staff die with Covid! So forgive us for not being understanding!’

A separate clip shows his colleague sternly telling an arrival that social distancing was compounding the hold-up.

The official seems to say: ‘It’s taking anything to 30 minutes to deal with one single person. Unfortunately, border force staff are not immune to Covid either so we… have to work in bubbles.

‘If you choose to stand close to someone, that’s up to you, but we have to socially distance. It takes time to do things, so please be patient.’ 

From Monday arrivals from a ‘red list’ of 33 countries – who will only be allowed to fly into one of five airports – will be expected pay £1,750 to quarantine for 10 full days (11 nights) in designated hotels.

Those who attempt to evade quarantine by providing false information face a fine of up to £10,000, and up to 10 years in prison, while those who do not book a hotel place before arriving in England face a £4,000 fine.

But it was thrown into chaos as its booking website crashed minutes into its launch, while travellers were not allowed to reserve rooms for the first two days.

Searches at Birmingham, Glasgow and Heathrow airports showed they weren’t ‘any applicable hotels’ for passengers to stay in.

The Government is already thought to have contracted 16 hotels to take part in the scheme, with the £50-a-night Thistle near Heathrow believed to be one of them.

The new booking website asks people to state the airport they are landing at, along with the date and the number of people arriving. 

It then lists what is included in the £1,750 quarantine package, such as food, drinks, transfers, security costs and two Covid tests.

The website also informs visitors that there is a £650 surcharge for an extra adult in the same room, and a £325 charge for children aged between 5 and 12. 

However, minutes after going live, the new website was taken down, with an error message telling visitors developers were carrying out ‘some maintenance’. The website does appear to be working for some visitors.  

A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson said the problem was a ‘minor technical issue’ and that the website was ‘currently undergoing maintenance’.

The spokesperson said: ‘Rooms are available from Monday 15 February and travellers will be able to book through the site imminently.’ 

However Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds slammed the launch blunder and said ministers must ‘act urgently’ to get it back up and running.

‘It is extremely worrying that even the limited hotel quarantine booking system is showing signs of failing from the outset,’ he said.

‘Over a year into this pandemic and 50 days on from the discovery of the South African strain, there are no excuses for yet more Government incompetence in the introduction of hotel quarantine.’  

Meanwhile the Government issued more advice on its quarantine hotel scheme. The guidance states that any traveller wishing to leave their room for exercise will only be allowed with special permission from hotel staff or security and is ‘not guaranteed’.

Travellers who don’t book a hotel quarantine place face a £4,000 fine even though the UK website is STILL down

The UK booking website was down on Friday despite the scheme starting on Monday

The UK booking website was down on Friday despite the scheme starting on Monday

Travellers arriving in England from 33 ‘red list’ countries who don’t pre-book a space at a quarantine hotel face a £4,000 fine – and will still have to pay the cost of their stay. But the website is still down today.

Arrivals the Covid hotspots will have to pay £1,750 to quarantine for 10 full days (11 nights) in designated hotels from Monday.

The package includes the costs of transport from the port of arrival to the designated hotel, food, accommodation, security, other essential services and testing.

But the government warns those who have not arranged a quarantine package prior to their arrival in England, ‘face a penalty of up to £4,000 and will still have to pay for your quarantine package on arrival’.

The costs for the 11 night stay, including food, drink and transfers, are £1,750 for one adult in one room, with a £650 additional rate for 1 adult (or child over 12) and a £325 rate for a child aged 5–12.

Meanwhile, providing false or deliberately misleading information when filling out your passenger locator form is an offence punishable by imprisonment.

The Government warns that you could be fined up to £10,000, imprisoned for up to 10 years, or both, if you do not provide accurate details about the countries you have visited in the 10 days before you arrived in the UK. 

The Government also published a list of five airports in England that travellers from red list countries must fly to under the quarantine rules.

The accepted entry points from red list countries are: Heathrow Airport, Gatwick Airport, London City Airport, Birmingham Airport and Farnborough Airfield.

Notable absences on the list include Manchester Airport – which is the UK’s second busiest airport after Heathrow. Luton and Stansted have also been excluded. 

Farnborough Airport – which is included on the approved list – is a private airport catering mostly for business passengers and has around 30,000 movements each year.  

It comes Matt Hancock this week unveiled England’s new quarantine programme for Britons arriving home from Covid hotspots abroad.  

The measures are aimed at stopping Covid variants discovered in countries such as Sotuh Africa and Brazil taking hold in the UK. 

Meanwhile, Heathrow Airport chiefs warned that unless there is a way to revive the travel industry soon, thousands more jobs will be lost.

Bosses at the London airport fear that once the quarantine rules are introduced on Monday only the ‘desperate and wealthy’ will be flying. 

Ahead of the new measures being introduced, face mask wearing passengers pushing large trolleys of luggage were seen streaming through the arrivals area at Heathrow.

A large group of people were also seen waiting at the arrivals area waiting for passengers, while there were queues at departures as people checked-in for flights leaving the UK.

The arrivals landed in Heathrow, as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer visited the busy London airport, where he delivered a scathing attack on the Government’s quarantine scheme.  

An estimated 10,000 travellers arriving in the UK from ‘higher-risk countries’ every day will avoid hotel quarantine, Labour warns.

‘I don’t think anybody would argue that’s a system that’s going to work,’ Sir Keir said.

The Labour analysis is based on the number of people travelling from countries where the South African or Brazilian coronavirus variants are circulating but which are not on the Government’s red list. This includes locations such as France, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands.  

Speaking to reports during his visit to the airport, he said: ‘Our concern isn’t their preparations, because they’re getting on with that.

‘Our concern is that we now know that there are variants in countries that aren’t on the red list. So this partial approach by the Government isn’t going to work.

‘We are at this crucial stage now where it’s a race between the vaccine and variants, and the only way through this is to buy time by having a comprehensive system of quarantine in hotels, wherever you come from.’

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