Border Force union voices fears over risk of Covid spread from ‘red list’ arrivals

Staff say tougher measures are required to stop passengers arriving from hotspot nations mixing with lower-risk travellers
Heathrow photo PA

By John Johnston

17 Feb 2021

The Immigration Services Union has raised concerns over mixing of passengers within airports after reports of “red list” arrivals not being separated.

The ISU, which represents immigration and border staff,  said that people are at "risk of catching any virus or variant" after they say passengers from high risk countries were forced to mix in airports in recent days.

On Monday a quarantine policy was introduced requiring passengers arriving in the UK from 33 “red list”countries to be isolated in specially managed hotels for 10 days. They are collected from the airport and transferred directly to the hotels.

But according to the ISU, border staff, who they say did not receive instructions on implementing the policy until 8.30pm on Friday, were concerned that on arrival, “individuals required to quarantine are not separated in any way from other travellers”.

“This isn't something Border Force have any control over; it is the responsibility of the airport,” an ISU spokesperson said.

“But members are expressing concern that the failure to separate, particularly where combined with any delays or queuing, does place other travellers at risk of catching any virus or variant carried.”

While the ISU estimated that border staff had only encountered “a few hundred” passengers requiring quarantine on Monday, they worried that a surge in passengers trying to beat the deadline before the policy kicked in could also have impacted transmission.

”Passenger traffic, especially at Heathrow, was unusually heavy over the period immediately before the start of quarantine measures,” an ISU spokesperson said.

”Understandably those who could travel in advance did so. This did lead to a level of queuing at the arrivals control which is never ideal because there is no social distancing.”

People travelling from ”red list” countries must arrive at Heathrow, Gatwick, London City, or Manchester City airports. Farnborough Airfield, where private jets are permitted to land, can also take arrivals from ”red list” countries.

Representatives for both Heathrow and London City airports said special arrival channels had been established for those passengers who are required to enter hotel quarantine.

”The process the government has designed triages passengers at Heathrow between the aircraft gate and the immigration hall, where those from the ‘red list’ are directed into a dedicated channel,” a Heathrow spokesperson said.

”After crossing the border, government contractors then escort red list passengers to a segregated area of our baggage hall to collect their luggage before taking them to dedicated hotel quarantine transportation.

”In addition to our enhanced cleaning regimes, Heathrow has also deployed dedicated Covid marshals to remind passengers that face coverings are mandatory at all times within the airport and that they should socially distance at every step of their journeys.”

A spokesperson for London City Airport said no passengers had arrived from ”red list” countries since the policy was implemented on Monday, but that specialist lanes had been set up to ensure social distancing between arrivals.

A Home Office source said airports had a responsibility to enforce social distancing between passengers arriving from ”red list”countries and other destinations.

John Johnston is a reporter for CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared.

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