'We are like captives': life in Britain's quarantine hotels

Border Force officers received details of new policy only hours before it came into force

Zari Tadayon gestures from a window of the Radisson Blu Hotel at Heathrow Airport, as Britain introduces hotel quarantine programme for arrivals from a "red list" of 30 countries, in London, Britain, February 15, 2021. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

A woman who spent three weeks in Dubai had “no idea” she would be forced to stay at a quarantine hotel after returning home to Britain.

Zari Tadayon, who landed at London Heathrow Airport on Monday, did not book a hotel before she departed as she thought she would be exempt because of a health condition.

She had flown to Dubai on January 22 to deal with some legal matters before the UK introduced its hotel quarantine policy for certain countries – including the UAE, southern Africa and all of South America – to try to keep out variants of Covid-19.

“It’s disappointing – it’s quite disappointing,” Ms Tadayon said from the Radisson Blu hotel where she will spend the next 11 nights.

“I’m not sure if I am allowed out. Nobody explained anything to me.”

Passengers arriving in the UK from “red list” countries face fines of up to £10,000 ($14,000) for failing to quarantine, and those who lie on their passenger locator form could be jailed for up to 10 years.

The price for a single adult in a quarantine hotel is £1,750, which includes the room, three meals a day and transport from the airport.

The government said on Tuesday travellers face an additional £1,200 bill if they test positive for coronavirus during their stay, with guests required to extend their stay beyond the initial 11 nights.

Ms Tadayon said she had to wait for several hours on arrival at the country because of teething problems with the quarantine policy. She said she would spend her 69th birthday alone in the hotel.

“The officers at the immigration were not very up-to-date about what they should be doing – we just waited and waited for a hotel,” she said.

“The cost is quite high – I wasn’t prepared for this forced expense. I could have given it to my children or celebrated my birthday nicely with my family for half of that amount or even a quarter of that amount.

“I was in Dubai for three weeks – I needed to attend to some legal matters which were very important. I was not there for a beach holiday.”

Passengers on Monday complained that red list travellers were allowed to mix freely with other travellers before being separated at passport control.

Jorge Elch, who arrived from the Maldives via Frankfurt, told The National he was worried about becoming infected himself after flying with six red-list travellers.

He said passengers were separated only after their travel documents were checked by border officers.

“You get off the flight at the same time as someone from a red-list area,” he said.

“Everybody is funnelled through the same area. It doesn’t make sense to me.”

Another passenger arriving from Cameroon said large numbers of people arrived at the border without a Covid-19 test package. Passengers are required to pay £210 ($291) before they arrive so they can receive a test on day two and day eight of their quarantine.

"Loads of people don't understand the requirements to come back," he told The National. "I said to them [border officers] that they really need to make it clear what's needed because every second person didn't have the right documents and they were put in a different area."

Faiza Shafi and her mother Hawa Omar, 52, were among the first passengers to be put in hotel quarantine after transiting through Frankfurt via Dubai.

The duo said they were due to arrive back in the UK on February 12 - before the new quarantine rules came into force - but Emirates airline cancelled two flights, which ultimately pushed back their arrival date.

Mohamed Noor faces 10 days in COVID-19 quarantine in a hotel room near London's Heathrow Airport after falling foul of new border controls because of a flight delay.

"I don't have a book. I don't have a Koran. I don't have nothing here," Noor, a 55-year-old Muslim, said by phone after his arrival on Monday, a day later than planned, landed him with a £1,750 ($2,400) bill.

In another hotel nearby, 61-year-old Sole, who declined to give her surname, said she realised too late that the new rules would kick in before she returned from visiting friends in Chile.

"We are like captives in these rooms," she said.

Noor, a postal driver, was visiting Somalia after his brother died and feels he is being punished for going to look after his mother. He spent four hours at the airport arguing his case and says he will refuse to pay.

"My family was waiting outside the airport and you can't see them. My 11-year old son was waiting," he said.

Sole plans to spend the time talking to friends, watching television and doing online classes and yoga.

She also feels she is being punished after taking a holiday following a stressful year working in a hospital where she has treated COVID-19 patients.

"Why has this happened? The new variant is in South Africa and it's going to spread anyway," she said.

Border Force officers were reportedly told of the new rules for managing hotel quarantine cases only hours before the policy came into force.

Immigration control staff received a lengthy email with five attachments, detailing how to carry out the new border checks, at 9.25pm on Sunday, The Guardian reported.

Sources told the paper a significant number of staff would not have seen the email by the time they began their shifts on Monday.

“It is a disgrace our members in Border Force only received new guidelines on hotel quarantine late last night,” said a spokesman for the PCS trade union, which represents Border Force staff.

“It’s vital that Border Force are equipped to deal with helping the public stay Covid safe. However, many feel underprepared and undervalued by a department that is not doing its job.”

Wayne Kelly, a British businessman returning from Dubai, said border officers issued him with a fine notice for not booking a hotel slot before he landed.

"The first I realised I was going to be in this trouble was when I got off the plane," he told the Daily Mail.

Wagner Araujo, who had come from Brazil, where he visited a sick relative, said he could have “easily” avoided border officials at the airport.

“As we got off the plane, there was a man standing with a sign saying: ‘Passengers from red list countries’. We went up to him and told him that we had arrived from Brazil. I found that quite shocking because we could have easily avoided him and not told him where we had been,” he said.

“Now I’ve got this nightmare of being put into a hotel when I’ve actually got a home in Birmingham with my family.”

On Tuesday, one guest held up sign from her hotel room that said: “Essential travel. My mother funeral. Why made to pay 1750.”

The international law firm PGMBM said it was preparing to launch a legal challenge to the quarantine hotel policy.

It said it breached Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

“We wholeheartedly appreciate the seriousness of the pandemic, its impact globally and the efforts of governments and healthcare workers to tackle it. This does not, however, mean that policies which constitute extraordinary violations of traditional liberties and human rights should not face careful judicial examination,” managing partner Tom Goodhead said.

“It is time for lawyers to take a stand and ensure that the government, which has shown scant regard for parliamentary scrutiny of Covid-19 legislation and regulations, is held to account.”

The Department for Health and Social Care said in a statement: “As of 0400 on the 15 February any passenger arriving in the UK from a ‘red list’ country is required to enter managed quarantine.

“This means that anyone arriving in England from that point, even as a result of a delay they would be required to enter managed quarantine.

“There are very limited exemptions to the requirement to book and enter managed quarantine if a person has been in a ‘red list’ country at any point prior to their arrival into England.”

In pictures – UK hotel quarantine comes into force