UK Border Officer Begs for Testing of Airport Arrivals for Coronavirus

Passengers wear face masks as the push their luggage after arriving from a flight at Terminal 5 of London Heathrow Airport in west London on January 28, 2020. - Chinese President Xi Jinping said Tuesday the country was waging a serious fight against the "demon" coronavirus outbreak and pledged transparency …
DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images

A British Border Force officer has begged for testing of airport arrivals over fears of incoming Chinese coronavirus cases, as criticism mounts that while Britons are in house lockdown the country’s external borders remain open.

Speaking anonymously for fear of losing his job, the Heathrow border patrol officer told ITV on Wednesday: “We’ve got to start testing people at the airport as soon as they land. And we can easily catch the plane and just do temperature checks. We can easily do it. Just give us the equipment, and we’ll do it.

“Our job is to protect the border, and we’re not doing that.”

He added that he and his colleagues had been concerned about incoming flights from China as early as December 2019, when news of the virus began to make headlines in Western media.

“We weren’t comfortable with flights coming in from China,” he said, but claimed that their concerns “were just brushed off”.

The Border Force officer also expressed concern at the lack of testing and personal protection equipment (PPE) for frontline Home Office staff at the airport. Sadly, two of his colleagues have died of the Chinese virus, and he described “a lot” as self-isolating with symptoms. When asking managers, who have the luxury of working from home, for PPE, the whistleblower said that he had been ignored, with staff only having hand sanitiser at their disposal.

Echoing reports of NHS staff being threatened with the sack if they speak out about PPE shortages, the officer said, “You can’t say anything, because if you say something, you’re going to get disciplined” — a claim that a Home Office spokesman later denied.

While China was the originator of the deadly virus, flights from the country continued to arrive in the UK. Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage has criticised the government for failing to lock down the country at the beginning of the outbreak. He had noted that even on the day that Lombardy in Italy — the worst-affected nation in Europe — was closed down, 17 flights came into the UK from Milan’s Malpensa airport with no passengers being temperature-checked.

Speaking to followers during a Facebook live stream on Tuesday, he said that the fact flights were still landing at British airports despite British households being under lockdown was “madness” and remarked that a friend’s daughter had recently returned from the far east without even having her temperature taken.

“I have been railing about this ever since this crisis started,” Mr Farage said. “I am struck that those countries that have done best are the countries that closed their borders to international flights and tested and traced those who had coronavirus. That is why you see so many countries in the world who have handled this better than us. It is astonishing.”

He added: “We’ve handled this appallingly. I’m convinced that in the big post-mortem that is to come we will see that actually, opening up the doors to flights is what led to so much of the problem in this country.”

The United States was the first country to ban travellers from Europe — which had become the global epicentre for coronavirus — in an effort to reduce transmission rates, the move provoking the ire of Eurocrats. However, individual European countries and eventually, the bloc itself enforced external border lockdowns. But Britain remains open.

Last week, health secretary Matt Hancock defended the UK’s border policy, saying “we’ve followed the science for international travel” which points to retaining open borders. Emmanuel Macron had even threatened to bar Britons entry to France unless the UK followed Europe’s lead and protected her borders during the crisis.

On Thursday, Mr Hancock also defended the government’s strategy of not testing international arrivals. He essentially claimed that the move would be pointless, given the high transmission already in the country, despite every individual carrying the virus — such as the yet unconfirmed “Patient Zero” — having the potential to affect the health of a community.

He said: “At the current rate of transmission here, the scientists say that the epidemiological impact of keeping the travel open is very small because there’s already large transmission here.”

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