A passenger collapsed at Heathrow Airport following a ‘seven-hour wait’ as travellers are forced to queue up due to coronavirus checks at the border, it has been claimed.
Around 800 border staff are working at Heathrow and that all are currently in work subject to the normal reasons for absence, according to the Immigration Services Union (ISU).
Spokeswoman Lucy Moreton earlier told news reporters that the queues are taking so long because travellers cannot use eGates due to the government requirement to check 100 per cent compliance with Covid-19 border restrictions.
Footage posted online on Monday afternoon shows a woman lying on the floor of Heathrow Airport being tended to by staff – as many more passengers wait to be cleared through the border.
The video’s uploader claims the woman had collapsed following a seven-hour wait for entry clearance.
Travellers often arrived at the airport without the right documentation and that pre-pandemic a non-contentious entry for someone with the right of residence would have been two minutes if they did not use the eGates.
Post-pandemic with the right paperwork, that transaction time is five minutes, the ISU representative alleged – and that without the right paperwork that time shoots up to at least 30 minutes.
Ms Moreton said: ‘The Government can choose two routes. Either remove the requirement for 100 per cent checks, with all the attendant risk to national Covid security. Or compel carriers to ensure that no one arrives in the UK without having complied with the relevant requirements.’
Chris Garton, the chief solutions officer for the London airport, has told MPs ‘the situation is becoming untenable’, with wait times in recent days being ‘well in excess of two hours and up to six hours’.
Giving evidence to the Commons Transport Select Committee, he warned: ‘We’re starting to see disruption in some of the arriving passengers. If you’re made to queue for two or three hours, it’s not something you want to do, and we’re even having to involve the police service to help us.’
Mr Garton went on: ‘What’s happened is a whole host of new checks – 100 per cent checking of everybody – has been introduced, and that obviously has put a tremendous burden on the officers who work at the border. The Home Office has not provided them with additional officers.’
When asked to respond to the ISU’s claims, a Home Office spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘We are in a global health pandemic – people should not be travelling unless absolutely necessary.
‘Border Force has ensured it has the right level of resources to check that passengers are compliant with our border health measures.
‘Queues and wait times will currently be longer, as it is vital that we undertake thorough checks at the border and due to the fact that some passengers have not completed the necessary requirements to enter the UK, such as purchasing covid testing packages or booking their hotel quarantine in advance.’
He told the committee the amount of resources for processing passengers at the border ‘always was a problem’, but the coronavirus pandemic ‘has just made that so much worse than it was before’.
He continued: ‘We want to see that bottleneck removed as quickly as possible. It’s a problem today, it will become a much bigger problem after May 17 (when foreign leisure travel from England could resume).’
Mr Garton said the ‘solution’ is to enable passengers to ensure their entry to the UK is ‘assured’ before they begin their journey. Errors on passenger locator forms should be spotted and corrected in advance, and eGates should be able to check the documents automatically, he told MPs.
This would allow arriving travellers to ‘flow as you would normally through the eGates rather than having to line up and present your paperwork to a rather overstretched border official’, Mr Garton added.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman defended the queues, saying Border Force is ‘completing thorough checks of every arriving passenger’ which is ‘the approach the public would expect’.
He added that the Government will ensure there are ‘sufficient measures there and resources available’ when international leisure travel resumes.
Downing Street insisted that resources would be put in place to ensure airports can cope with increased passenger numbers when international travel resumes.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘Whatever measures we set out from May 17 at the earliest, we’ll ensure that there are sufficient measures there and resources available.’
Meanwhile, in Scotland, Edinburgh Airport bosses warned of a reduction in the number of direct flights to Scotland without a covid recovery plan – leaving people reliant on airports in England.
Gordon Dewar, chief executive at Edinburgh Airport, called for immediate action from the Scottish Government to engage with airports and airlines for a recovery plan.
Mr Dewar said uncertainty around Scottish airports could lead to a reduction in the number of direct flights and leave people reliant on airports in other parts of the UK.
He highlighted the industry supports thousands of jobs and generates billions of pounds for the Scottish economy every year. In 2019, Edinburgh Airport generated £1.4billion Gross Value Added and 28,000 jobs in the Scottish economy.
In February Heathrow experienced huge delays at the border caused by ‘rigid and inflexible’ social bubbles created to apparently prevent the spread of new variants.
MailOnline revealed that Emma Moore, the chief operating officer of Border Force, had been responsible for organising the workforce into 12-person bubbles. She was subsequently appointed to the role of Trace Divisional Director with NHS Test and Trace, the Government’s virus tracker.
The bubble policy first came into force on December 31 and was blamed for the mayhem seen at the border as thousands of passengers tried to clear passport checks ahead of the quarantine hotel system.
The ISU accused Ms Moore of ignoring their concerns that the scheme was ‘arbitrary’ and would overwhelm Border Force officials doing customs checks. An ISU spokeswoman also called the bubbles ‘needless’, because Heathrow had already received its three-star Covid-secure certification.
The Department of Health said: ‘Emma Moore has been appointed to the role of Trace Divisional Director. She joins us from her current role as Chief Operating Officer of Border Force, following a competitive hiring process. Emma has a wealth of experience across the public and private sectors to bring to this role.’