Huge crowds at Heathrow Airport 'incredibly worrying', shadow health secretary says

22 January 2021, 23:01 | Updated: 22 January 2021, 23:21

File photo of customers queuing at the check-in desk in Heathrow's Terminal 2 departures hall
File photo of customers queuing at the check-in desk in Heathrow's Terminal 2 departures hall. Picture: Getty
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Pictures of huge crowds at Heathrow Airport are "incredibly worrying", shadow health secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds has said.

Scenes of people queuing at border patrol with seemingly little regard for social distancing emerged on social media on Friday.

One photo, uploaded by senior diplomat Sir Peter Westmacott, appeared to show hundreds of people lining passport control, with some clearly not wearing their masks correctly.

Responding to the images, Labour's Nick Thomas-Symonds called on the government to "get a grip" of the situation.

He said: "The Conservatives' indecision and incompetence has left holes in our country's defences. There's no clear strategy in place and they are lurching from one crisis to another.

"The scenes at airports are incredibly worrying, with no social distancing and clearly risking transmission of yet more strains of this awful virus. Ministers need to get a grip to protect our country's health."

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Several videos and pictures shared on social media over the past few days have highlighted the issue with queues at passport control.

Sir Peter, a former British ambassador to the United States, captioned his picture with the following: "T2 Heathrow Friday afternoon. No ventilation. Long delays. Superspreading."

A government spokesperson said: "We are in a national lockdown to protect the NHS and save lives. People should not be travelling unless absolutely necessary.

"You must have proof of a negative test and a completed passenger locator form before arriving. Border Force have been ramping up enforcement and those not complying could be fined £500.

"It's ultimately up to individual airports to ensure social distancing on site."

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The UK's travel corridors were closed on Monday 18 January
The UK's travel corridors were closed on Monday 18 January. Picture: PA

A spokesperson for Heathrow pointed out that immigration halls are controlled by Border Force officials - who are helping to implement new rules around negative Covid tests for passengers - and not by airports.

He added: "We've been clear since last May really that social distancing in an airport environment isn't really possible.

"To put that in context, if you had one aircraft of let's say 300 people, you'd need a queue about 1km long to socially distance just one aircraft, which is why last summer we mandated face coverings in the airport."

The diplomat's image was shared shortly before Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested more may have to be done to "protect our borders".

It comes amid fears that coronavirus variants found in South Africa and Brazil may be less susceptible to Covid-19 vaccines.

"We may need to go further to protect our borders," he said on Friday.

"We don't want to put that (efforts to control the virus) at risk by having a new variant come back in."

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