The government has been accused of repeatedly ignoring concerns that the quarantine rules for incoming passengers will fail to halt the spread of new coronavirus variants in the UK, unions revealed two days before the measures become law.
The GMB Union has said its members and airport staff had been telling the Home Office for the past fortnight that they were concerned that passengers from 33 designated high-risk countries were still being allowed to mix with other travellers and staff before entering hotel quarantine for 10 days at a cost of £1,750.
Speaking ahead of the long-awaited quarantine measures in government-designated accommodation, which come into force on Monday, 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 Heathrow airport, the ground staff, security staff, have been raising concerns about this for two weeks now. Heathrow just isn’t safe at the moment.
“We’re talking about the spread of new strains, so people entering from different countries into a small space is not a good look.”
She added that although the government had introduced measures that international arrivals to the UK had to provide evidence of a recent negative coronavirus test, there was still no way of knowing if a negative test was genuine.
Meanwhile the union Unite, which represents thousands of workers in the hospitality and hotel sector, said it still had not heard from the government, despite publicly sharing concerns that the guidelines on quarantine hotels failed to adequately protect workers from potential Covid-19 exposure. On Saturday a Unite spokesperson urged staff not to go to work if they felt unsafe.
In a separate development, a statement from Heathrow airport reiterated its disquiet over “gaps” in the government’s quarantine measures, just two days before they become law.
A Heathrow spokesperson said: “Some significant gaps remain and we are yet to receive the necessary reassurances. Ministers must ensure there is adequate resource and appropriate protocols in place for each step of the full end-to-end process from aircraft to hotel to avoid compromising the safety of passengers and those working at the airport.”
Other failings in the measures also emerged late on Saturday when the parents of unaccompanied minors travelling back to school in the UK urged the government to rethink hotel quarantine rules. One father pleaded: “Don’t lock up my children.”
Hundreds of children whose parents live and work overseas but who attend boarding schools in the UK are keen to return when the government allows schools to reopen.
Elsewhere, families complained that they were being treated as “guinea pigs” amid confusion over hotel quarantine rules.
Beckie Morris, 30, planned to repatriate to the UK with her family, but now faces a quarantine bill of thousands of pounds if they do so.
The new mother told the Press Association news agency that there was “no information” on the government website about what to do with young children.
Regulations requiring people from “red list” countries to quarantine in hotels were published as late as Friday, telling people how to book their “managed self-isolation package” which includes a hotel, transport and testing.
The Home Office has been contacted for comment.