Heathrow passengers warned 'no one is above the law' amid concerns over Covid safety

7 January 2021, 20:39 | Updated: 8 January 2021, 13:14

Passengers queuing at Heathrow before Christmas
Passengers queuing at Heathrow before Christmas. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Travellers arriving at Heathrow have been warned "no one is above the law" amid concerns over a lack of Covid safety at the airport.

The Government has insisted that "anyone travelling from countries not on the travel corridor list must self-isolate for 10 days" upon arrival in the UK, adding that if passengers fail to fill out a locator form they now face a £100 fine.

It comes amid growing concerns over the South African variant of coronavirus that may reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine, leading to calls for passengers to have to produce a negative test result when they arrive in the country.

Unlike many other countries, people arriving in the UK are not currently required to provide a negative PCR test.

READ MORE: 10,000 people hospitalised with Covid since Christmas Day, NHS chief says

READ MORE: Gove tells LBC restrictions on flights ‘may go further’ than South Africa ban

People who have travelled through Heathrow recently have raised concerns about not having provide a negative test result, as well as a lack of mask wearing at the airport and poorly maintained sanitiser stations.

One person said they “felt quite vulnerable” the moment they landed, while another said “the contrast... with every other international airport is dismal”.

Freelance journalist Raphael Rashid, who is based in South Korea, told LBC’s Shelagh Fogarty: “I think I was experiencing coronavirus culture shock. It was a completely different thing to what I experienced in South Korea. So many people not wearing masks - indoors, outdoors - a general sense that people are not taking it seriously. 

“When I arrived in London Heathrow from the start there were no temperature checks at the airport. We didn’t have to submit a negative PCR test, there was no screening, no health assessment and there’s no one to check whether you have a passenger locator form or not. 

“Airport staff not wearing masks, or if they were they were wearing them under their noses or on their chins, which defies the reason for wearing a mask. No social distancing. I felt quite vulnerable the moment I landed in the UK.”

SAGE Member: Explains to LBC how the new variant is spreading

A government spokesperson said the rules have recently been changed so all travellers need to fill out a passenger locator form before boarding or face a £100 fine.

Mr Rashid compared his experience at Heathrow to when he returned to Seoul and not only had to provide a negative PCR test result, but also had another test on the tarmac at the airport once he got off the plane.

He was taken to a quarantine facility while he awaited the result of his test, before being taken in a “quarantine taxi” to his home to self-isolate for two weeks.

Upon arrival at the airport, he also had his temperature checked and was made to install a coronavirus app on his phone.

On his experience in London, he added: “I’m not sure whether it’s incompetence or arrogance because here we are one year on and it feels like nothing has changed. 

“I’m not saying the UK can implement all the policies that have been done in South Korea or other Asian countries but there are so many other things the UK could be doing better. 

“Landing in the UK, providing PCR tests, temperature tests, nothing is being done, absolutely nothing. 

“Sometimes I’ve heard some of these MPs and politicians who start to accuse South Korea of being totalitarian or draconian, basically shifting the blame on the countries that they should be learning from.”

Ellie Thomas, who has travelled to Italy and Greece in recent months, expressed similar concerns.

She said: “Even inside the terminals, there is no enforcement of distancing or wearing masks.

“On arrival into the terminal, there is no mention of the app, or any obligation to download it. It's actually not even mentioned on flights, what you are told is that you ‘may have to isolate unless exempt’.

“While I did see sanitiser stations in Heathrow in December, they did not seem to be well maintained.

“As soon as people got off the flights, masks were removed even inside the terminal and baggage claim.”

Ms Thomas, who worked in travel prior to the pandemic, said she returned to the UK from Bangkok before the March lockdown, where already “temperature checks were taken constantly, and your temp was actually written on your boarding card before you were allowed to travel”.

“The contrast between London and every other international airport is dismal,” she added.

Other passengers have taken to social media with recent concerns over safety practices at Heathrow.

A government spokesperson said: “No one is above the law and those who are breaking the rules are putting friends, family and the wider public at serious risk. Anyone travelling from countries not on the travel corridor list must self-isolate for 10 days.

“We have changed the rules so all travellers need to fill out the Passenger Locator Form before boarding and are liable for a £100 Fixed Penalty Notice in England if they fail to do so.

“Our measures are designed to keep us all safe and we are looking at what additional measures should be taken as we start the vaccination programme to keep people safe.”

A Heathrow spokesperson added: “We have a number of measures in place to keep our passengers and colleagues safe.

"These measures include strategically placed hand sanitiser dispensers, Perspex screens, Covid marshals to assist with social distancing, the mandated use of face masks as there are points of the passenger journey where social distancing may not be possible, UV robots and other anti-viral technologies.

"Heathrow has long called on government to implement a pre-departure testing regime which will assist the country’s efforts to curb the spread of this disease.”

Listen & subscribe: Global Player | Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify