UK Border Officials Ordered Not to Routinely Wear Masks

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 28: Border Force check the passports of passengers arriving at Gatwick Airport on May 28, 2014 in London, England. Border Force is the law enforcement command within the Home Office responsible for the security of the UK border by enforcing immigration and customs controls on people …
Oli Scarff/Getty

UK Border Force officials have told staff that they are not allowed even to wear their own masks routinely at work, according to claims, despite two officers having already died of coronavirus.

Border Force staff have claimed that if they are carrying out passport and customs checks, dealing with a high number of members of the public, they are not allowed to wear personal protection equipment (PPE). Reportedly, only staff who are dealing with those suspected of having the Chinese virus or when processing illegal aliens may protect themselves.

The instructions were allegedly sent to staff in a message dated April 20th, according to sources speaking to The Guardian, who told the newspaper that many staff are now fearing for their lives as well as for their jobs if they defy the instructions.

The newspaper said that the Home Office, which oversees UK Border Force, did not deny the claims, in an article published on Thursday.

The Immigration Services Union wrote to its members on April 25th, saying: “We know many of you feel strongly that you should be able to wear face masks routinely at work in order to protect yourself and others from Covid-19 infections.

“We are therefore very worried that Border Force are preventing you from wearing your own face masks at work and in places threatening you with disciplinary action if you do try to wear a mask.

“To say the least, this seems to us an aggressive and unreasonable attitude to take towards staff with genuine welfare concerns.”

The allegations came after a UK Border Force officer working at Heathrow Airport spoke to media, saying that he and his colleagues were unable to do their job protecting the border because there are no tests for arrivals. This was despite planes still coming in from virus hotspots China, Iran, and Italy.

The source, whose identity was not revealed as he feared to lose his job, added that he and his colleagues raised concerns about flights from China as early as December 2019, but that their reports “were just brushed off” by management.

Two UK Border Force staff who had worked at the London airport have died from the Chinese coronavirus.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has called on ministers to make wearing masks compulsory when out in public, with scientists advising the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) that even home-made cloth face coverings can help slow the spread of the infectious respiratory virus.

The government has faced criticism for its slow response to calls to recommend masks for all, which may speed up lifting lockdown measures.

On Friday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman admitted that there is evidence that face coverings have a “weak but positive effect” on slowing the infection.

The spokesman said: “Ministers are still considering how we move forward with face coverings in terms of the precise advice which we give to the public and once that’s ready we will announce it.

“The advice we have received based on the science shows a weak but positive effect in reducing transmission of coronavirus from asymptomatic members of the public where social distancing isn’t possible.

“What ministers need to consider is how best to produce advice for the public on the next steps, and that work is still ongoing.”

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