Heathrow staff faced a ‘mutiny’ yesterday with security staff stepping in to stop furious passengers ‘leaping over’ malfunctioning passport barriers, a witness has claimed.
The chaos erupted after some of the machines stopped working, with passengers saying they were forced to queue for hours following an in-direct flight from Dubai.
He said some tried to climb over barriers before they were tackled and detained by Border Force officers.
The Home Office confirmed two people ‘attempted to evade being checked’ but were ‘immediately’ stopped by officials.
A ban on direct flights from Dubai to the UK came into force last week, with passengers rushing back to Britain before the rules kicked in.
People queue at terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport over the weekend amid the coronavirus pandemic
Describing the Heathrow chaos, Mr Raza told the Mirror: ‘People get fed up, it’s what happens when you push people too far.
‘They had been waiting in the queue for ages. Processing those queues takes forever.’
The businessman is now self-isolating at home but said he waited almost two hours on touching down at Heathrow before he could leave.
He slammed the situation at Heathrow as a ‘shambles’ and said it was far worse than what he’d seen in Dubai and Frankfurt.
Mr Raza also said that customs officers were only interested in checking his Covid PCR test was negative and didn’t even scan his passenger locator form.
This was disputed by a Border Force spokesman.
Mr Raza continued: ‘There’s absolutely no social distancing, it’s ridiculous. Behind me the machines stopped working and there was a bit of a mutiny, people started jumping over the barriers of the automated machines. There was a melee…security pacified the situation.’
Mr Raza was in Dubai for business meetings with two others from the UK.
He accused the British government of ‘political grandstanding’ with the snap travel ban to Dubai, following criticism of influencers travelling there.
A ban on direct flights from Dubai to the UK came into force last week, with passengers rushing back to Britain before the rules kicked in
Emma Moore, Chief Operating Officer at Border Force, said: ‘We are in a global health pandemic which is why every traveller is subject to enhanced monitoring at UK airports in line with the public health measures at the border.’
Q&A on UAE travel – and are there exemptions?
Why is the UAE being added to the travel ban?
It follows evidence that the more infectious South African strain of Covid-19 had been detected in the UAE.
What does this mean?
From 1pm today, no passenger flights from Dubai or Abu Dhabi may arrive in the UK. Non-UK residents will be banned from entering if in the UAE within ten days.
Have all flights been cancelled?
No. Emirates and Etihad Airways said all UK passenger flights from the UAE were suspended, although British Airways told passengers that some were still running.
Are there exemptions?
Yes. British, Irish and third country nationals with residence rights in the UK will be allowed to return from the UAE but they will need to travel via a third country.
Are there many Britons in Dubai?
Up to 10,000 UK residents are thought to be in the UAE
Will arrivals from the UAE have to quarantine in hotels?
Not yet. Officials are said to be considering this from the week beginning February 8. For now, UK residents must self-isolate at home with all members of their household for ten days if returning from the UAE.
Can you circumvent the rules?
Non-UK residents are banned from entering Britain if they have been in the UAE within ten days. So a non-UK resident in Dubai could travel to a country not on the banned list, stay there for ten days, then enter Britain.
How many countries are now on the banned list?
The UAE joined the existing red list of 30 countries – mainly in South America and southern Africa – along with Rwanda and Burundi in central Africa.
Will this affect those travelling through Dubai?
Yes. The ban could have a much wider impact for British travellers returning from further afield because Abu Dhabi and Dubai are major international transit hubs.
‘Every airport across the UK has a responsibility to comply with social distancing and Covid compliant measures on site.’
A Heathrow spokesperson said: ‘Long queues at the border should not be a surprise to the Home Office.
‘We warned the Home Secretary last year that Border Force was consistently failing to meet its 45-minute queue standard, and it’s clear from the last week that adequate steps have not been taken to address these.
‘It is not reasonable, not should it be necessary, for any airport to have space to hold arriving passengers for up to three hours.
‘The Home Office needs to get to grips with this issue.’
Dubai, which is home to some 240,000 British expats and is a major tourist destination for UK travellers, is likely to face a major economic hit from the travel ban.
Despite the restrictions, models, social media influencers and reality TV stars have defiantly stayed at the poolside in Dubai and Abu Dhabi after thousands of other British travellers raced home to beat the restrictions.
The likes of Mia Sully from Absolutely Ascot and Love Island stars Joseph Garratt and Anton Danyluk were pictured on Instagram enjoying life in the sunshine last week.
This is despite the UK Government adding the United Arab Emirates to the so-called red list of countries from where travel to Britain is prohibited during the coronavirus pandemic.
Others including Only Fans model Honey Evans from Leeds said they would stay out in Dubai despite the ban. She tweeted: ‘Flights from Dubai to the UK are banned. Guess I have no choice but to stay out here. Shame.’ Following a backlash, Ms Evans later added: ‘So many people giving me s*** for being in Dubai.’
Due to border closures caused by Covid-19, Dubai to London was the world’s busiest international route in January with 190,365 scheduled seats this month. In normal times the busiest route to and from London is New York City.
Many Britons are staying out in Dubai because they know they will only have to quarantine at home for ten days upon their return – and a rule forcing them to stay in a hotel will not come in until February 8 at the earliest.
But some said they had just managed to get home just before the ban on direct inbound passenger flights from the UAE to Britain came into effect last week.
Emirates and Etihad Airways said all UK passenger flights from the UAE have been suspended, although British Airways told passengers that some were still running.
Other countries which have banned flights from the UAE include Denmark, which had concerns over the reliability of Covid-19 tests at some private clinics in Dubai – although the UAE has since reassured Denmark about this.
Around 10,000 UK citizens were thought to currently be in the Gulf state, including a host of social media names who flocked to Dubai before Britain’s third lockdown, before the travel ban was put in place.
Mia Sully (left), social media stratgeist Bianca Lynch (centre) and Yazmin Oukhellou from Towie (right) in Dubai
Anton Danyluk (left) from Love Island is among those still in Dubai, while new restrictions are introduced
Love Island contestant Georgia Harrison posted this picture from Dubai on Instagram last week during her stay in the UAE
The announcement of the restrictions was made by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps last week.
Where is on the ‘red list’ at the moment?
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Portugal (including Madeira and the Azores)
United Arab Emirates (UAE)
He confirmed that the United Arab Emirates, which includes the skyscraper-heavy city-state, had been added to the UK Government’s red list along with Burundi and Rwanda.
A Department for Transport spokesman said: ‘The decision to ban travel from these destinations follows the discovery of a new coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa, that may have spread to other countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Burundi and Rwanda.
‘Any exemptions usually in place will not apply, including for business travel.
‘British nationals currently in the UAE should make use of the commercial options available if they wish to return to the UK. Indirect commercial routes that will enable British and Irish nationals and residents to return to the UK continue to operate.’
The move came amid a furious Tory row over Home Secretary Priti Patel’s attack on leisure travel and social media influencers sunning themselves overseas during lockdown.
MPs and airlines attacked her ‘shambolic’ holiday ban announcement amid fears it will leave airport staff facing the full anger of travellers.
They accused the Home Secretary of launching a broadside at Instagram influencers and holidaymakers after being ‘humiliated’ over her attempts to close the UK border completely to foreign arrivals.
She read the riot act to would-be travellers last, warning that people on fake work jaunts and social media attention-seekers heading for sunny destinations will be turned away from airports.
Influencers boasting of sunshine foreign breaks amid the global pandemic are now facing a furious public backlash after they were slammed by the Home Secretary.
As they shared photos from sun loungers, lockdown had appeared not to apply to so-called influencers and models who ‘used loop-holes’ to jet off the sunnier climes under the guise of work.
But foreign travel – apart from some exceptions – has been illegal since the lockdown law was passed on January 5.
There was also confusion over what would constitute an acceptable journey abroad and who would police the policy.
Meanwhile ministers are facing demands to add more countries to the UK’s ‘red list’ amid growing fears over the threat of importing mutant coronavirus strains.
The government moved to toughen the border regime last week, announcing that the ban on travellers from more than 30 ‘hotspot’ countries will be expanded so returning Britons and the few other exempt individuals will have to go into ‘quarantine hotels’ at their own expense for 10 days.
But the plan has been the subject of an extraordinary Cabinet tussle, with Priti Patel and Matt Hancock among those pushing for even tougher action.
And the rules forcing all arrivals from the ‘red list’ countries – including South Africa, much of South America and Portugal – to isolate in hotels at their own expense are still thought to be weeks from implementation.
Officials have admitted there are serious logistical issues to the policy, including setting up enough accommodation for the arrivals and making sure it can be guarded.
Boris Johnson: ‘The UK cannot shut its borders completely’
Boris Johnson yesterday warned that Britain cannot shut its borders completely to prevent mutant coronavirus strains getting in as he denied ignoring SAGE advice.
The PM insisted closing off the country altogether was ‘not practical’ as he clashed bitterly with Keir Starmer in the Commons this afternoon.
The Labour leader demanded to know why ministers had not followed the views of scientists two weeks ago that a ‘pre-emptive closure of borders or the mandatory quarantine of all visitors upon arrival’ was the only way to stem the flow of variants.
But Mr Johnson said the UK had one of the ‘toughest regimes in the world’ and stressed that ‘quarantine hotels’ are being brought in for high-risk countries – although he did not indicate when.
‘It is not practical completely to close off this country as he seems to be suggesting. What is practical to do is have one of the toughest regimes in the world and to get on with vaccinating the people of this country,’ the premier said.
The exchanges came after Matt Hancock said UK border rules will get tougher to protect against emerging strains.
‘We are also looking to strengthen measures in particular for those countries that have the highest risk,’ he said in a round of interviews.
But amid fresh signs of tensions in Cabinet, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps struck a different tone as he gave evidence to MPs.
He insisted the UK could not do a full Australia-style lockdown with blanket ‘hotel quarantine’ rules because it was an ‘island’ and needed food imports.
On suggestions the ‘red list’ of travel ban countries will be expanded, Mr Shapps told the transport committee: ‘It might go to more in the future… we simply don’t know until the virus decides what it wants to do.’
The delay comes amid rising fears that the South African variant is already loose in the UK, and other more potent mutant strains could lessen the effectiveness of the vaccine drive.
Senior Tories have joined Labour in calling for the countries covered by the restrictions to be widened, while Nicola Sturgeon turned up the heat today by announcing Scotland will unilaterally force all arrivals to quarantine.
In a direct attack on the Prime Minister’s strategy, the First Minister said it would not work and called on him to mirror her approach, telling MSPs at Holyrood: ‘The firm view of the Scottish Government is that in order to minimise the risk of new strains coming into the country, managed quarantine must be much more comprehensive.’
The ‘red list’ is usually reviewed on Thursdays, with the United Arab Emirates having been added last week, and the government has said it will look at expanding the roster further.
Meanwhile, the PM is facing accusations that he ignored advice from SAGE weeks ago that the borders should be closed.
A paper from the scientific group on January 21 said full closure of the borders was the only way to stop variants spreading.
However, No10 has angrily denied the idea, saying SAGE specifically said the government should not ‘rely’ on travel bans and there was no ‘zero risk’ option available.
The PM’s aides said the paper called for an ‘effective policy regime including testing and or quarantine/isolation for travellers’. ‘This is the policy step we took,’ one No10 source said.
Prof Calum Semple, a member of SAGE, admitted this morning that Britain was a ‘complex transit country’ and a full border closure was not practical as it would stop food imports.
But he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘In general I do support restricting movement, particularly of people in this time.’
The row comes as a frantic bid to contain the South African strain begins, with specialist teams going door to door to test 80,000 people in areas where the more contagious variant is feared to be spreading.
Scientists are worried the South African strain may be able to evade vaccines and stressed that anyone who suspects they could be infected should self-isolate immediately.
Universities minister Michelle Donelan today played down concerns about how long it was taking to introduce the quarantine rules.
‘I don’t think there’s a delay. There wasn’t a timeframe set originally as to when we would announce this,’ she said in a round of interviews.
‘We announced the intention of this last week in conjunction with other initiatives that we’re doing, including banning travel from other countries, and the details will be announced.
‘It is a logistical effort as well, as you will appreciate, and so it all needs to be laid out properly and the health secretary will be doing that.’
The PM’s spokesman said: ‘Sage did not actually advise the Government to completely close borders or call for a blanket quarantine on travels.
‘They don’t put forward recommendations. Their modelling showed a combination of specific policy options, including pre-departure testing and isolation, are effective in mitigating the public health risk.’
But former health secretary Jeremy Hunt was among those urging the government to step up its response.
‘I think we should have done this much earlier, but I am pleased that we are doing something,’ he told Sky News.
‘I think it is absolutely right that we are bringing in hotel quarantine.
‘The trouble with just doing it for a few countries is that someone coming to the UK from Brazil could go via numerous other countries.
‘It is very difficult if you restrict it to a small number of countries. So we might need to expand that list significantly as we go forward.’