COVID clampdown: Passengers feel ‘unsafe’ in 90-minute queues at UK airports | UK | News (Reports)

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UK coronavirus testing is in a ‘dangerous situation’ says expert

Border staff checked that every traveller carried proof of a negative test after stricter rules came into force at 4am yesterday. Incoming fliers must now provide confirmation that the test was taken during 72 hours before they left for the UK, and then isolate for up to ten days after entering the country. The crackdown follows the scrapping of travel corridors offering exemptions. Anyone arriving without proof faces a fine of up to £500 as ministers try to prevent fresh strains being brought in. Isolation can be cut if another negative test is provided after five days.

But Andy Hart said as he arrived at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 from Nairobi with his partner he was “shocked and disappointed” to see the queues. “We felt unsafe. Even though everyone was masked they were far too close.”

Andy, of London, said: “It took an hour and ten minutes. I’ve been flying 30 times a year for 20 years. Once or twice have I ever seen it [queues] like this.

“How can this happen during Covid times?”

Queues built up when fast-track electronic gates were closed so officials could scrutinise every passenger’s negative Covid-19 test and locator form.

Staff at the airport’s Terminal Two handed out bottles of water while travellers waited for more than 90 minutes to clear immigration checks. Several people were given £500 penalties for breaking the latest rules.

Border staff are checking that every traveller has proof of a negative test (Image: Getty )

Nanna Lund Nielsen, 24, said some fliers “are not very happy. It was getting very hot in the immigration hall and they were giving out water. I don’t think people expected to wait so long.”

Joe Johnson, who arrived from Delhi, India, said: “The checks were very thorough. Some people had not filled out the form and went to the back of the queue.”

Richard Bradley, arriving from Kenya after a family break, said: “There were a couple of people in our queue whose tests may have been outside the required 72 hours so that was causing a lot of grief and discussion.”

But Robert Hart, 52, of Southampton said as he flew in from Abu Dhabi: “I’m very pleased the rules have been tightened. I thought we should have brought this in months ago.”

Maria Gkizari also approved of the stricter checks as she arrived in Manchester from Athens. The environmental engineer said her certificate was checked at passport control and as she boarded.

The 36-year-old, from Manchester, commented: “It was good. I definitely felt safer.”

But some Britons were stranded abroad yesterday, including one airside at Madrid, amid confusion over which tests meet the rules.

Lisbet Stone obtained a test three days before leaving Havana on Sunday. But after landing at Madrid she was banned from her connection to Gatwick as her test was seen as out of date.

Her husband Trevor said: “She is crying her eyes out and desperate to come home. She has been separated from me and our four children for 326 days. I don’t know what to do.”

Lisbet, 41, of Polegate, East Sussex, had been stranded in Cuba after flights were suspended during the pandemic last spring.

Hannah Holland, 23, from Sheffield, was another left in tears after she was barred from an American Airlines flight from Philadelphia via Chicago due to land at Heathrow yesterday.

She had a certificate proving a negative antigen lateral flow Covid test taken within 72 hours of her departure. But AA staff at check-in, who have a list of approved tests, said it was not valid for travel to the UK despite being one of the types approved by the UK government.

Hannah said: “It was the easiest thing in the world until I got to Chicago. It was only then that one attendant looked at my paper and said, ‘That’s not sufficient, you’re not getting on this flight’. She kind of threw this list of Chicago testing centres to me and was like, ‘Yeah, have a look at that, goodbye’.”

Her mother Valerie, 54, said Hannah was last night back in Philadelphia trying to source a replacement test and flight.

She said: “I’m furious…even her luggage is missing.

“I don’t know where we’re going to get the test they want back in time to ever fly out. We believe this was a misinterpretation by American Airlines.”

An American Airlines spokesman said: “Unfortunately on this occasion Ms Holland’s test certificate did not meet all of the criteria as outlined by the UK Government mandate.

“The certificate did not specify the name of the test device as required and therefore travel to the UK could not be permitted as per Government guidelines.

“Our team have been actively trying to reach Ms Holland to assist prior to her rescheduled trip tomorrow.”

Travel corridors were a lifeline for the sector when they were introduced last summer, and firms saw a spike in bookings for “safe” destinations on the list of exemptions.

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The aviation industry has called on ministers to ensure that they have a plan in place for when the Covid-19 restrictions can be eased. Karen Dee, the chief executive of industry trade body the Airport Operators Association, stressed the need for “a clear pathway out”.

She said: “We’ve had the worst year in the entire history of our industry so the sooner we can get flying again safer, the better.”

EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said the closure of the travel corridors will not have a “significant impact” on his airline in the short term as flight numbers were already limited due to the pandemic.

He added: “We know that there’s a big difference between people’s willingness to sacrifice to go and travel if you have to quarantine for ten days or 14 days, down to five days or even three days.

“So it’s really, really important that, as part of the plan for recovery, the Government also has the plan to unwind these restrictions that are in place.”

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