CORONAVIRUS: BORDER FARCE
COMMENT SHARON FEINSTEIN Freelance journalist
I HAVE just got off the plane from South Africa. Heathrow terminal five on a Monday at 12.30pm. Not a sleepy Sunday or the middle of the night. I’ve arrived a week before the hotel quarantine will supposedly be put in place for anyone coming from countries where the dangerous Covid mutant is rife – that is South Africa and Brazil. South Africa is the one on everyone’s lips with mutation of the virus more contagious than anywhere else and possibly able to defy the vaccine. So, South Africa is top of the red list and the country every border official is on the look out for – or so one would think. I was armed with a folder of documents. My negative Covid test, the passenger locator form, and anything else they could possibly ask for. I estimated the process would take around an hour and warned the person who was meeting me. But, shockingly, I needn’t have bothered. I was through in 10 minutes. British passport holders went one-way, foreign nationals the other. And those with e-passports began to queue at the machines. I was looking around for where I’d have to present my folder, taking out documents, everything ready. But suddenly I was in front of the cameras, passport faced down, doors open, and I was off to the arrivals hall. No one had asked for a negative Covid test, where I would be self-isolating, how long I had been in South Africa and whether I had mixed with anyone who had the virus. I picked up my bags and wandered around in sheer disbelief. South Africa, a third world country, had scrutinised everything when I entered 12 weeks ago. Same with Greece and Italy when I went last year. What is wrong with us? Why is it that we are leading the world with our vaccines, going from door to door across counties testing for this South African mutation and yet unable to get a sensible hold of our borders? When I transferred on the train to the customs hall, people were crammed like sardines with no one to ensure social distancing. These simple things are missing in our country and causing the mayhem we are in – the tragic and mounting 100,000-plus deaths. My experience has to be told and has to reach Parliament’s ears. This must be sorted out if we are ever to stop the spread.