MIAMI – London Heathrow Airport (LHR) is facing social distancing issues linked to the three-color scheme that defines how epidemically dangerous origin countries are.
With the easing of travel restriction in force since Monday, May 17, problems arose from the cohabitation of passengers arriving from red, amber, or green labeled countries – the colors that define the level of the spread of COVID-19 and of possible contamination – whose citizens are all stuck in the same arrival terminal space, sometimes for hours, as they wait to be cleared by border authorities.
Travelers complained about the lack of distancing and of being mixed with others arriving from India and potentially carrying the highly contagious Indian variant of the virus. Others expressed more fear of catching COVID-19 while queuing for Customs clearance than catching it in South Africa where their flight originated.
Statement from London Heathrow
London Heathrow authorities acknowledged problems at border control, stating, “Border Force is currently experiencing some delays as they conduct Health Measure Checks to ensure passenger compliance with the UK Government’s latest entry requirements. “We have raised your concern with our colleagues at Border Force whose responsibility it is to ensure that passengers within the red-listed queue remain separate from other passengers.”
But according to journalist Steve Myall, he and his family had to sit in an area where travelers had just arrived from a red-listed country.
Worries amid Below-normal Traffic Numbers
According to The Mirror, LHR registered a flow of 11,000 people flying out on Monday, well below the normal, pre-pandemic traffic of approximately 120,000 for the season. UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, reiterated that tough border measures will stay in place for the time being.
Other Ministers also stated that people should not go on holiday in countries out of the green list while the Prime minister added that the “list would not be extended any time soon because of the risk of new variants.” At the moment, only 12 countries are listed as green countries and travel to Spain, Italy, France, and Greece, is not advised because of the risk from mutant strains of the virus.
A Government spokesperson said, “Protecting public health is our priority and as we reopen international travel safely we will maintain 100% health checks at the border to protect the wider public and our vaccine rollout.”
Queuing for the Holidays
Health secretary Matt Hancock also told a Downing Street press conference, ‘If you want to holiday abroad, that is what the green list is for, or holiday at home. While we do this, wait times are likely to be longer and we will do all we can to smooth the process, including the roll-out of our e-Gate upgrade program during the summer and deploying additional Border Force officers.”
Concerning problems during arrivals, Hancock added, “Arrangements for queues and the management of returning passengers are the responsibility of the relevant airport, which we expect to be done in a COVID-secure way.”
As reported by Metro News, Transport Minister, Grant Shapps summoned LHR Authorities to come up with a solution by the end of May in lieu of the re-opening of the airport’s unused Terminal 4 to handle passengers arriving from red-listed countries. On the mater, LHR confirmed that a “dedicated arrival facility would be available in the coming weeks.”
“We’re adapting Heathrow to this longer-term reality by opening a dedicated arrivals facility in the coming weeks for red list passengers arriving on direct flights. Opening this facility will be logistically very challenging, but our hope is that it will enable Border Force to carry out its duties more efficiently as passenger volumes increase in line with the green list.” indicated a spoke person from Airport Authority.
Featured image: London Heathrow Airport at night. Photo: London Heathrow Media