Quarantine is not being enforced, a border force union chief has warned, as she revealed just one in ten passengers arriving in the UK are given “cursory” checks.
Lucy Moreton, professional officer for the union for borders, immigration and customs, said that for the tiny minority actually checked on arrival, officials would accept any “vaguely plausible” information on where the passenger was staying as they had no way to establish if it was true.
“Unless it’s manifestly unreliable, we accept it on face value,” she told MPs on the home affairs committee. “We have no way of knowing if it is true. We also don’t check every arriving passengers, we check about ten per cent of arrivals.”
She said Border Force officers’ major concern was that quarantine was “unenforceable” with police officers also struggling to “check whether individuals are where they say they are.”
A police chief had earlier told MPs his force had only fined 15 of the 521 passengers suspected of evading quarantine and whom they were able to track down.
“Individuals can put whatever it is on the passenger locator form. We don’t check the addresses and then they get onto mass transport in order to enter the UK where they can move around with very little enforcement,” said Ms Moreton.
She said passengers were also arriving in the UK without having filled in their locator form that would tell border force and police where they were going to stay on their arrival in the UK because the airlines were not required to enforce it.
As a result, she said border officers were being abused by passengers frustrated that they had not been told before.
“Passengers are not being told by the carriers they need to [fill in locator forms]. They are discovering at the back of the airport hall that they are supposed to be doing this. They are understandably angry,” she said.
“The first person they see in a uniform is one of our members. I am really saddened that our members are being subjected to excessive abuse and being placed at risk from travellers who might be spreading the virus to no benefit to the UK biosecurity. That’s a matter that really saddens us.”
Ms Moreton also said that officers as yet had no information on how to check if passengers had taken a coronavirus test before travelling to the UK, even though a negative result will become a requirement for entry by 4am on Friday this week.
She said airlines may make the result a condition of travel, but if border guards have to check, they may be forced to accept any “vaguely plausible” document due to a lack of information over what is required.
Scientists told MPs that any measures taken at the border would ultimately be ineffective unless more stringent quarantine and enforcement requirements were brought in to back them up.
Professor Annelies Wilder-Smith, professor of emerging diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), said: “You either do it right, or you don’t do it at all.”
Professor John Edmunds, a member of the government’s Sage committee and epidemiologist at LSHTM, said that controlling the spread of coronavirus domestically was currently far more important than worrying over imported cases, but stricter measures should be introduced in future as well as to prevent the silent spread of any new variants that may first emerge overseas.
“If you’re going to have quarantine restrictions, I think you should take them seriously,” he said, pointing out that many East Asian countries, as well as Australia and New Zealand, had seen success by using quarantine hotels for incoming travellers.
“They cannot spread if they are locked in hotels. And that is effective. They way we do it where we’re really just relying on people to take you seriously and to abide by the rules doesn’t look like it’s very effective. And we don’t even know how effective it is because we don’t really know how well people comply with it.”
The scientists recommended measures including rapid tests on departure and arrival as well as a shorter and stricter quarantine period, possibly of around 5 days.