Government accused of losing track of 150,000 people who entered the UK since travel quarantine laws started

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 11: People queue at UK border control at Terminal 2 at Heathrow Airport on February 11, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Ian Vogler - Pool/Getty Images)

Labour would do worse? Give me a break…

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The Government is alleged to have lost track of approximately 150,000 international travellers who have arrived in the UK since the latest border controls were introduced just over seven weeks ago, i can reveal.

Since the launch of the Government’s hotel and home quarantining policy on 15 February, the ISU – the union for borders, immigration and customs workers – estimates almost 800,000 people have entered the country from overseas, yet only 640,000 have been accounted for.

There are also concerns that of those who have been ordered to isolate for 10 days at home after flying into the UK, only a tiny proportion have been checked to see if they are obeying quarantine laws. A Public Health England (PHE) operation that monitored the situation closed last month.

In the latest set of quarantine figures from both English and Scottish health departments, 377,244 people were placed in quarantine since 15 February.

Of the remaining people coming into the UK roughly 266,000 were exempt from quarantine regulations, the vast majority being hauliers making deliveries to the UK that account for around 220,000 of the arrivals according to figures provided to i by the Road Haulage Association.

Another 13,000 include Border Force officers, who have to cross the borders regularly as part of their work, diplomats and journalists from the BBC, which is the only media outlet exempt from quarantine laws.

Another group not included in the quarantine numbers are around 33,000 immigrants caught by Border Force during the period after attempting to gain entry into the UK without documentation. They are accounted for, but treated differently in the official statistics.

The remaining 150,000 people have not been told to quarantine and the Government is thought to have lost track of them, even though many may have travelled from “Red List” countries – countries from which visitors are supposed to book a 10-day stay in one of the approved hotels at a cost of £1,750 per person.

Of the 377,244 in quarantine, 12,801 were in a Government designated hotel, while 364,443 were ordered to isolate at home. Wales and Northern Ireland do not have international travel quarantine procedures currently in place.

All passengers travelling from outside the UK, but not from a “Red List” country are required to isolate at home for 10 days and take two negative tests before being permitted to leave.

Lucy Moreton, professional officer at the ISU, said: “There does appear to be a gap of around 150,000 people that are not accounted for in the figures. The question that has to be asked is where are these people?”

A senior national police source also suggested only around one in a hundred people quarantining at home had been checked. The Home Office was asked to comment on the number of home checks taking place and advised that PHE was responsible. However, PHE said that its Isolation Assurance Service, the department that makes home checks, was shut down last month.

A Government study from the Covid-19 Rapid Survey of Adherence to Interventions and Responses group found that between March 2020 and January 2021 only 42.5 per cent of UK respondents were fully adhering to the requirements when symptomatic.

Another study from the Office for National Statistics suggested the adherence rate had risen to 90 per cent in recent weeks. However, these figures are for those showing symptoms of Covid-19. No public figures are available that measure the rate of adherence among those required to quarantine at home after entering the UK from abroad.

Ms Moreton added: “The majority of travellers do not quarantine in a hotel and there is limited evidence that anyone checks to ensure that those directed to isolate at home do so. All the way through there’s been questions about who is checking people at home. Now PHE’s role appear to have gone those questions become even more relevant.”

“The requirements to test on days two and eight will, if complied with, assist in mitigating some of the risk of importing a new variant, but with the large numbers still crossing our borders on a daily basis the risk cannot be underestimated.”

As i reported on Wednesday, there is concern that variants from South Africa and Nigeria are on the increase in the UK.

Nick Thomas-Symonds MP, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, said: “This is a staggering level of incompetence, even by the Conservatives’ standards. 

“It’s deeply worrying that so many travellers have been ‘lost’ leaving the door open to new strains of Covid, putting at risk the progress made by the vaccine and the huge sacrifices made by the British people. 

“Coming after the hundreds of thousands of police records were also ‘lost’, this shows the worrying level of chaos at the Home Office.”

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said: “We are in a global pandemic which is why every traveller is subject to enhanced monitoring at UK airports. People should not be travelling unless absolutely necessary. Every check from pre-departure testing, to the Passenger Locator Form is to strengthen our borders and prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“Border Force operational guidance on the measures has been issued, and is regularly updated to ensure staff are supported on how to apply the new guidance.”