UK travellers complain of ‘prison-like’ conditions in quarantine hotels

·4 min read

Travellers staying in quarantine hotels in the UK after returning from “red list” countries have complained of “prison-like” conditions, including windows that do not open, a lack of fresh air, exercise and decent food.

The Guardian spoke to nine travellers who are or have recently been in quarantine hotels after returning from countries including Brazil, India, Pakistan and South Africa. They complained of a deterioration in their mental and physical health due to being confined in their bedrooms round the clock and being forced into debt to pay the £1,750 per adult charge for the quarantine period.

Some of them had travelled abroad due to sickness or death of loved ones and so were already in a distressed and traumatised state before entering the quarantine process.

They also expressed concern about a lack of social distancing at UK airports and on the coaches transporting people to quarantine hotels.

While nobody challenged the need to quarantine, it is the way the process has been handled that has generated the complaints. A Facebook group called UK Hotel Quarantine Support Chat has been set up and has thousands of members, many of whom have raised concerns about quarantine arrangements.

Dr Sanjay Gupta, an NHS cardiology consultant, who was returning from Kenya where he had travelled to be with his dying father, said: “Not everyone can afford to pay the £1,750 cost. There seems to be something shamelessly opportunistic about this situation. But if you’re arriving from a red list country you don’t have a choice.”

Dr Thanjavur Bragadeesh, also an NHS consultant, who had returned from India where he was helping to care for his elderly parents after both had had surgery, said: “It took several hours to reach the hotel after arriving at the airport. The food is not good and the quantities are small. I got a small box of cereal for breakfast with a cheese omelette that was so hard that if I had thrown it, it would hit someone. One of the things I got for dinner was half a naan bread. I don’t know who got the other half!”

He said people quarantining had to be escorted by security guards for their 15 minutes of fresh air. “We are not prisoners, we are not trying to escape,” he said.

“I really feel for the people who are quarantining with children. The hotel staff have been polite but the conditions here are claustrophobic. It is perfectly reasonable and sensible not to bring infection into the country but things don’t need to be this draconian.”

Zahid Siddiqui, 58, returned from Pakistan where he had spent several months visiting his sick father. He expressed concerns about the lack of ventilation, fresh air and exercise and poor food.

“The whole thing was a nightmare,” he said. “I have various medical conditions such as atrial fibrillation and medical advice is that I need to take daily exercise. But I was only allowed to go outside for two of the 11 days. I have never been in jail in my life but this experience felt like it. I have never before suffered from depression but after my time in the quarantine hotel I now understand the meaning of the word.”

He was told his quarantine ended at midnight on a particular day so he could leave the following morning. He said he could not wait that long and arranged for a relative to collect him from the hotel on the dot of midnight.

“I was so hungry I ate throughout my journey back to my home in Cheshire,” he said.

One 69-year-old woman with diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, who is in a quarantine hotel after returning from Brazil, said it was impossible for her to eat the fatty and sugary food she has been provided with. When she complained she was given an apple, a tangerine and a banana. “I have been left very hungry,” she said.

A woman who had returned from visiting her sick mother in South Africa with her husband and four-month-old baby said: “We were treated like animals. I was begging for help sterilising my baby’s bottles after we arrived back at the airport. There was no social distancing there and I was terrified of catching Covid at the airport. The food was inedible, I can’t explain how bad it was. I took a bite of a chicken burger that tasted like pork, spat it out and felt sick all evening. We are in debt now from paying for the quarantine hotel and feel completely exhausted.”

A government spokesperson said: “Our top priority has always been protecting the public and our robust border regime is helping minimise the risk of new variants coming into the UK. The government continues to ensure every person in quarantine gets the support they need, and all managed quarantine facilities are accommodating the vast majority of people’s requirements. Hotels do their utmost to take any necessary steps to address concerns raised by guests.”

Government sources added that strict rules were in place, including seating plans, to ensure social distancing in vehicles used to transport people to quarantine hotels.