UK Immigration Services Union: quarantine rules a ‘shambles’

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Comments by Sanwar Ali:

The 14 day quarantine period has been heavily criticised by many.  Airlines who have already suffered enormously due to coronavirus COVID-19 continue to suffer.  Many people coming into the UK will be unable to work for fourteen days.  This will affect lower income groups more.  Those people who find it easiest to work from home tend to be in higher paid jobs.

This will also make things more difficult for say Tier 2 Sponsors employing Tier 2 visa applicants coming in from abroad (assuming they can obtain a visa!).  The new employee will have to spend almost all of their time at home on entry to the UK for the 14 day quarantine period.

The UK Immigration Services Union (ISU), which represents Border Force staff, has described the government’s 14-day coronavirus quarantine protocols as ‘shambolic’. The new protocols were launched on Monday, 8 June.

However, Border Force staff claim that instructions about the scheme only arrived on Friday, 5 June leaving very little time for preparation.

Professional officer at the ISU, Lucy Moreton said: “Border Force staff checking quarantine papers are ‘angry’ at the way they are being treated. The staff are really angry that this does appear to be very shambolic and they don't want to be blamed for that.”

According to a leaked document, Border Staff have no way of verifying whether addresses given by people for where they will self-isolate are genuine and that the quarantine system is built entirely on trust.

Fines issued for false UK address details

The leaked document did say that people would be fined for providing blatantly false information, such as giving their name as ‘Mickey Mouse’ and their address as ‘Buckingham Palace’.

It’s also claimed that while significant checks would take place at Heathrow Airport, very few would occur at the Port of Dover. Meanwhile, just 230 tablet computers are in use for passengers who fail to complete a form.

Kit Malthouse, a Home Office Minister said that reports describing quarantine protocols as a ‘shambles’ are simply untrue, but did not specify exactly what was untrue. Malthouse said:  “Border Force officials are extremely experienced at dealing with matters of identity at the border, and making sure that people’s identity coincides with their identity documents.”

“Spot checks will be taking place”, he added.

Quarantine protocols

Anyone arriving in the UK from Monday, 8 June – including Britons returning from abroad – will be required to complete a form, packed with details about their recent travels, before going into self-isolation.

Failure to complete a form or providing false information will result in a £100 fine.

In an interview with Sky News, Mr Malthouse said: “It may be the case that some people will just accept the £100 fine in order to lie about a holiday. However, in extremis, they could be detained and then removed from the country if they don’t comply.”

It’s understood that those who break self-isolation rules face a fine of up to £1,000 and possible prosecution if quarantine rules are continuously flouted.

Protocol exemptions

However, a huge number of people working in certain professions have been made exempt from quarantine protocols when arriving in the UK, plus they can leave isolation under certain circumstances such as:

  • Buying food
  • Purchasing pet food
  • Collecting medication

This is provided that there is no one else who can run these errands on the isolated person’s behalf.

Those made exempt include foreign diplomats, regular international commuters, truck drivers, medical workers and fruit pickers, most of which are considered key workers amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Airlines launch legal challenge

While Malthouse has defended the system by saying that having a clear set of rules concerning international travel is vital, the UK’s three biggest airlines have launched a legal challenge against the quarantine protocols, hoping to overturn them.

British Airways, Ryanair and EasyJest, have filed a pre-action protocol letter outlining why the quarantine rules are ‘illogical and unfair.’

Airlines and travel companies have protested in vain against the Home Office-led regulations, arguing that the protocols have come far too late to prevent further transmission of the coronavirus, but will kill off any potential recovery of the airline industry.

Ryanair chief executive, Michael O’Leary, forecasts ‘dire consequences’ for the tourism industry because of the new protocols. He told the BBC: “What it is going to do is untold devastation, not just to the airlines but to British tourism.

“The thousands of hotels, the thousands of visitor attractions, restaurants in the next couple of months - July and August are the two key months for British tourism in the tourism industry. We're facing thousands of jobs losses because of a stupid, ineffective quarantine.”

Arrivals complying

Downing Street has reported a ‘good level of compliance’ with the new regulations. Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson said that the government expects most people to adhere to the rules to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The Prime Minister’s spokesperson said: “All of the indications so far are that there has been a good level of compliance. We do expect the vast majority of people to play their part in helping to stop the spread of this disease.”

However, the spokesperson offered no comment on the legal action taken by some British airlines, but stated that the ‘science behind the protocols is clear.’

“If we limit the risk of new cases being brought in from abroad we can help to reduce the likelihood of a second wave of coronavirus,” the spokesperson said.

Passengers have their say

A report published by the Daily Mirror, details responses given by air passengers who have arrived in the UK since the quarantine measures came into effect.

Passengers arriving at Stansted Airport on a flight from Eindhoven in the Netherlands shared their opinion on the protocols.

Shopkeeper Netti Rexhmet, 32, who runs an off-licence in Chigwell in London, said the rule will prevent him from working for a fortnight.

Speaking as he walked through arrivals on 8 June, Mr Rexhmet said: “We haven't got any other options, it’s government law so I shall do it. For me, I wouldn't want to do it. I'd like to be open. I've got things to do, you have to live now, you have to pay.”

Ali Gurlek, a software developer from London who had spent the weekend in the Netherlands visiting friends, blasted the measures saying that they lack ‘common sense’.

Mr Gurlek said: “Now we're going to use public transport. If we have it then it’s going to spread that way. It doesn’t look very common sense.”

In England, it remains illegal to stay in a place overnight that is not the place where a person permanently resides, except under certain circumstances.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Office continues to advise against non-essential travel abroad.

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