The editor at large who was returning from the US described the situation at the UK’s busiest airport as “not ideal”. Britons must self-isolate for 10 days when arriving in the UK and bring with them proof of a negative coronavirus test. Scenes of big crowds at Heathrow Airport are “incredibly worrying”, the shadow health secretary has said.
Pictures circulating on social media, including one from senior diplomat Sir Peter Westmacott, appeared to show queues of people at border patrol with no obvious social distancing on Friday afternoon.
Labour’s shadow health secretary 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.
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“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.”
A number of images and videos posted to social media over the last few days have shown queues at passport control.
Sir Peter, a former British ambassador to the United States, wrote alongside his: “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.”
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.
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“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.”
It comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested more may have to be done to “protect our borders” 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.”