C19 Quarantine Hotels – UK citizens recklessly abandoned
By Rob Woodward: It was February 15th this year when the government finally decided that perhaps it should impose some border restrictions at airports – something it had been heavily criticised for not doing much earlier as a deadly pandemic swept through the country. Quarantine hotels were supposed to be part of solution.
It seems sensible to do so, to stop unknown variants from entering Britain and scuppering the hugely successful vaccination programme.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary took personal charge of the initiative. Boris Johnson then announced that travellers still allowed to come to the UK from a “red list” of high-risk countries would be “met at the airport and transported directly into quarantine”.
From the very start – the plan descended into farce. Just days before the plan went live things were reportedly going wrong.
The head of one of the UK’s biggest airport hotel chains said his company has been “kept in the dark” over the plan with just days to go. Multiple news reports told of the impending confusion and chaos with hotels, airports and even Border Force staff saying they had no idea how the scheme would work (source).
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On the day of the quarantine hotel launch, anticipated chaos became reality. Travellers were slapped with £500 fines for getting paperwork wrong, or not even being aware of the initiative – and then told to pay £1,750 each to be quarantined. Then the complaints rolled in. Newspapers were publishing multiple stories about everything from aggressive security staff to poor quality food. Within a week, more stories surfaced that travellers were being treated like prisoners.
At this point, many readers may be thinking that the initiative is sound – based on the idea around public health and even national security. Others may be thinking why are people travelling in a pandemic anyway. The first question is a big one, which we’ll come back to. The second is that you have to have a reason to enter the UK from a red-list country. Many British citizens have lost jobs abroad due to Covid, or are coming back to assist family members (especially elderly parents), attend a funeral and so on. Some, but not many, were on holiday and were innocently caught out – really a case of bad timing.
Here we are in mid-April and the story has moved on – but tales of the chaos are even more shocking than initially reported.
I spoke with Sarah a few days ago, who was returning from a red-list country with her husband and two children after visiting Sarah’s very sick mother. Both are classed as key workers in the UK and are fully aware of the UK’s quarantine hotel rules. However, the quarantine hotel booking procedure has been left to just one company covering all arrivals. To this day, there are numerous complaints, mostly that bookings online do not work, that emails go unanswered and that getting through on the phone takes hours being on hold. I tried to book online myself for a quarantine hotel through the sole booking agent Corporate Travel Management (CTM) for next week and then each week for a month – and was met with a message that the booking could not be processed.
Sarah’s story should fill any traveller with horror. The flight that was booked was cancelled by the airline, which had to be rebooked for the following day. So did the quarantine hotel. For this, Sarah was left for hours and hours being left on hold by CTM. Cancellation charges were being applied and with no quarantine hotel confirmation, Sarah had to cancel the flight again as she couldn’t fly without the quarantine hotel booking confirmation. “I finally got a reservation 8 hours after our flight had flown and an invoice number 12 hours later.” Sarah, her husband and two small children have still not been able to make the journey back home. They now have jobs to worry about and the children are missing school and they have spent a lot of money going nowhere – effectively abandoned by their own country.
Sarah’s story is by no means a one-off. The booking agency has seen their social media accounts fill with complaints about poor communication, not answering the phone or emails, the result being that some people’s lives are being made a misery. Why the government decided to choose a company to manage the quarantine hotel process whose head office is based in Australia is a mystery.
“Now I’m being told no family rooms are available and they might not be able to do adjoining rooms. So we need to pay for two rooms, split up a family and still no booking. At this point, I’m just frustrated by the lack of responsiveness and inability to show urgency’ – said Hawa.
Barrister and MP Imran Hussain asked CTM – “why are many of my constituents unable to book a Managed Quarantine Hotel through your online portal and left on hold for hours on the helpline? Families with young children have missed their flights and had to spend the night in the airport as a result.”
Kamila frustratingly says – “My family also missed their flight last week, we were unable to get through to the helpline. Now with one day left before our new flight we are still waiting for new booking confirmation … helpless!”
Another angry Brit tweets – “Been on hold to Travel CTM for close to 2 hours!! Emailed them on Monday morning to NO RESPONSE”
Complaints such as – “I submitted a hotel booking on Monday, no email response, promised will be sorted soon,” “Waiting on phone for almost 3 hours with no pickup,” “Passengers waiting at airport unable to board due to no booking,” “Check-in closing in 1 hour. Who do I contact?” – are not uncommon.
Another Brit said – “I have been trying to book the quarantine hotel for my family returning to the UK but unable to do so online while nobody seems to answer the phone. I have waited hours and hours since Monday. CTM is a disgrace and their contract should be terminated.”
CTM is listed on TrustPilot and as of today has a 100 per cent ‘bad’ rating, the lowest rating possible. Complaints surround the same issues of very poor customer service, with some describing the company as ‘rubbish,’ a ‘scam,’ ‘unprofessional,’ ‘appalling’ and even ‘inhumane.’
Another couple I spoke are leaving the UAE to help with ageing parents who have experienced health problems directly as a result of Covid. There are no flights to the UK, and they cannot book a quarantine hotel via CTM, so Neil and Julie are forced to make alternative arrangements to get home.
“We have both been double vaccinated, tested for antibodies and regularly PCR tested and right now, we’re looking at flying from Abu Dhabi to Frankfurt, then change planes to another country somewhere in Europe , stay 11 days and then fly into Heathrow – followed by ten days self-quarantine at home. By the time we get home, we will have doubled our exposure to airport lounges and then forced into 6-hour queues at Heathrow and spent 21 days isolating. What is the point of vaccines and PCR testing if only to be met with this nonsense?”
And that answers the first part to that earlier question. The government is insisting that travellers from red-list countries have to pay several thousand pounds to be forcibly imprisoned in a government selected institution even if fully vaccinated and tested. The PCR tests are supposed to be plus 95 per cent accurate and detect all strains of Covid-19. So what exactly is the point of the vaccines and PCR testing as Neil and Julie have pointed out?
As for British citizens returning home, many can’t afford the scale of costs involved. We found one case where a British ex-pat was returning home with two small children and the cost was over £7,000 not including flights. And many others simply can’t afford to lose their jobs and go the long way around by spending 21 days in quarantine.
The government has reacted to increasing political pressure to close the border. When it finally did, it did so half-heartedly.
We know about 20,000 travellers are arriving from all over the world every day and something like 40 per cent are arriving for a holiday, according to Border Force figures. But for many British citizens, who are not holidaying, the story is very different. Many are being treated very badly, feel that they have been ‘ripped-off,’ ‘abandoned’ or recklessly forced into multiple trips and airport lounges where the likelihood of contracting Covid rapidly rises. There are now multiple reports of quarantine hotels infecting travellers who were tested negative for Covid. When that happens, another 10-day quarantine is forced at their cost.
At this point, it should be noted that many returning citizens have made the journey back with no real problems – but that doesn’t offset the problems that are incurred. The numbers are quite low of those trying to make their way home every day – around 8- to 150 a day.
As of the 17th of April, the UK is recording 39 new C19 infections per million. France has 669, Germany 244 and Canada 241 – none of which are on a red-list travel ban.
It is clear, the red list travel ban is now not based on scientific evidence or even logic, so quite why British citizens are seemingly targeted by the state for returning home (with good reasons for doing so), is not clear.
“the government are using tactics against returning British citizens that are not just disproportionate but an “abuse of power”.
Tom Goodhead, managing partner of legal firm PGMBM believe that the hotel quarantine policy is unlawful in a number of different respects.
He likened the quarantine rules to the Tom Cruise film Minority Report, where people are arrested for crimes they have yet to commit. “Why should it be presumed that law-abiding British citizens and residents would not adhere to home quarantine? The government has given no indication as to when this policy may end nor has it provided cogent scientific explanations for it … we believe that these measures are disproportionate. Unfortunately, this policy has the feel of pandering to populist sentiments driven by the government’s own messaging.”
The case being brought is essentially that when it comes to British citizens, the government has – “disproportionately violated their fundamental right to liberty and right to respect for private and family life.”
The legal team says that – “This thoughtless “one size fits all” policy has and will continue to have far-reaching implications for thousands of non-infectious citizens and residents who are simply hoping to return home to reunite with their family and perform their regular, taxable, work duties in their (home) country (source).
The case also states quite categorically that the government are using tactics against returning British citizens that are not just disproportionate but an “abuse of power”.
According to the latest reports direct from Brit ex-pats, bookings for a quarantine hotel after May 5th are now being fully declined – pending a further announcement from the government. Essentially, the government has now outlawed any British citizen from travelling to the UK after this date if coming from a red-list travel ban country – no matter what the reason. Right now, the only way to get back home to the UK is to plead with your MP and attempt an exemption. My local MP Laura Farris (Conservative) has not even bothered to acknowledge receipt of an email, let alone respond to it.
I have also written to Grant Shapps the transport minister and had no reply either. For many, the situation is becoming hopeless.
I contacted CTM who responded quite quickly with – “Corporate Travel Management was founded in Australia in 1996 and has had an established footprint in the UK since early 2015. CTM is a registered business in the UK, France and Germany, operating local offices and employing local people to support our regional customers, including the UK Government. CTM was appointed by the UK Government to provide travel management services as part of the COVID-19 response, under an existing Enabling Agreement through a Crown Commercial Service framework.”
A few hours ago, the government officially started warning that a third Covid-19 wave is now inevitable. PM Johnson said – “the majority of scientific opinion in this country is still firmly of the view that there will be another wave of Covid at some stage this year.”
For British citizens and residents attempting to get back to the UK – this news, along with the fact that quaratine hotel bookings have been cancelled means there is no legal way home unless they are wealthy enough to get around it and can afford to take the risk.