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Britons returning from holidays abroad can expect four-hour passport queues in cramped, poorly ventilated arrival halls to become the norm this summer, a Border Force worker has told the Guardian.
Amid claims from passengers arriving at London’s Heathrow airport that they were “terrified” they could catch Covid while waiting in long queues, the worker at Heathrow’s passport control said the matter is only set to worsen this summer unless the government eases the workload on staff.
“Staff are already struggling to cope but only because of what they are being asked to do. Normally a Brit arriving at passport control would clear immigration in 30 seconds,” the worker said, speaking anonymously.
“The current requirements to manually check Covid-19 testing paperwork and quarantine requirements mean that each person is taking 15 minutes to process.
“Everyone is back at work– including formally shielding staff – but the truth is that there simply isn’t the capacity for staff to carry out the checks demanded by the government.
“Flights are currently running at around 15% of normal capacity. If they return to anywhere near their normal level, and the processes remain as they are, it’s going to be a very frustrating summer of long, four- to six-hour waits,” he said.
Passengers arriving at Heathrow on Monday described how they were waiting for up to three hours to clear passport control alongside travellers from India and other high-risk destinations.
Those arriving from red list countries – connected to the prevalence of Covid variants – are supposed to be separated from other passengers before being processed at passport control and then put on buses to quarantine hotels. However, a member of the security staff at Terminal 2 told the Guardian that the reality “was very different”.
Steve Myall, who had flown in to London from the US on Monday, documented his experience on Twitter. During his two-hour wait to be processed he said he had been directed to sit next to a family who had arrived from a red list country, despite the US being on the UK’s amber, or medium risk, list.
Despite warnings from ministers, thousands of British holidaymakers have flouted government advice and boarded flights to red and amber list destinations, after international travel resumed on Monday.
Yvette Cooper, the Labour MP and chair of the home affairs select committee, warned that UK airports could pose a “super-spreading risk”, if left unchecked.
“It’s irresponsible, frankly, not to sort this out because if you have people waiting for long periods of time in a not brilliantly ventilated arrivals hall, that’s a super-spreading risk,” she told the BBC.
“There’s a real risk that we’ll end up just going backwards again. And this is against a long history of errors and mistakes in the policies at the border,” the MP said.
A London Heathrow spokesperson said Border Force is responsible for separating red-list passengers in their immigration halls.
“Those from the red list are directed into a dedicated channel. 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.
“There are numerous measures to keep passengers and colleagues safe, including requirements for negative tests pre-departure for international arrivals, enhanced cleaning regimes, dedicated Covid marshals to enforce social distancing and mandatory use of face coverings throughout the airport.”
A government spokesperson said: “Protecting public health is our priority and as we reopen international travel safely we will maintain 100% health checks at the border to protect the wider public and our vaccine rollout.
“While we do this, wait times are likely to be longer and we will do all we can to smooth the process, including the rollout of our e-Gate upgrade programme during the summer and deploying additional Border Force officers. Arrangements for queues and the management of returning passengers are the responsibility of the relevant airport, which we expect to be done in a Covid-secure way.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Britons face four-hour passport queues this summer, warns Border Force worker | Travel & leisure