United Kingdom

How WILL Border Force cope when 'amber list opens to double-jabbed Brits'

Questions are being asked over how Border Force will deal with policing double-jabbed Brits should amber list countries open up. 

British holidaymakers who have received both doses of the Covid-19 vaccine could be given the green light to fly to nearly 170 countries from next month under new government plans. 

The Home Office has insisted that it has already 'taken steps to reduce wait times for those entering the country' by upgrading e-gates and improving technology. 

But critics have warned that there could be queues of up to seven hours as flight capacities increase and Border Force officials struggle to check travellers' evidence of vaccination. 

British tourists at Portgual's Faro Airport as they were forced to interrupt their holidays in the Algarve to return home earlier this month 

Those who are fully vaccinated will need provide evidence via the NHS app at border controls and then be able to enjoy trips to amber list nations without having to isolate for 10 days upon returning home.

Huge numbers of tourists had to scramble home from Portugal earlier this month in order to beat the quarantine deadline when it was dramatically taken off the green list.

Some 168 destinations are currently on the amber list, including popular holiday spots like Portugal, France, Spain, Italy, Greece and the United States.

Ministers are still discussing the plans at this early stage, but Boris Johnson could rubber-stamp them in time for millions of lockdown-weary Britons to jump on flights in July.

The idea would see travellers obliged to take several PCR tests on their return, but if they come back negative, they won't have to remain stuck in their homes like under current rules.

However it remains to be seen whether the Border Force will be able to cope with such a large number of travellers.

The under-fire agency was widely criticised over chaotic scenes at Heathrow earlier this year - when travel was heavily-restricted - when passengers had to queue for up to seven hours to get through passport control and at least one passenger collapsed.

Last month, one Border Force worker told the Guardian that the situation in airports was only set to worsen unless the government were able to ease the workload.  

'Normally a Brit arriving at passport control would clear immigration in 30 seconds but the current requirements to manually check Covid-19 testing paperwork and quarantine requirements mean that each person is taking 15 minutes to process,' the worker, who wished to stay anonymous, said. 

'Everyone is back at work– including formally shielding staff – but the truth is that there simply isn't the capacity for staff to carry out the checks demanded by the government.

'Flights are currently running at around 15% of normal capacity. If they return to anywhere near their normal level, and the processes remain as they are, it's going to be a very frustrating summer of long, four- to six-hour waits,' he said.   

Footage posted online in April shows a woman lying on the floor of Heathrow Airport being tended to by staff - as many more passengers wait to be cleared through the border

The agency insisted last week that it has taken steps to reduce wait times for those entering the country, including upgrading e-gates and improving technology at the border

However, it insisted last week that it has taken steps to reduce wait times for those entering the country, including upgrading e-gates and improving technology at the border. 

The agency suggested widespread reports of the extent of the delays included 'misleading claims' that they were down to a lack of resource and inadequate staffing levels.

It claims that improvements to border technology means it has now more than halved the time it takes to check passenger locator forms to two minutes when scanning a passport. It could previously take up to six minutes.

Border Force also said it had upgraded e-gates at Terminals 2 and 5 at Heathrow and at Gatwick, while there are plans for even more, to speed up processing of passengers returning from green or amber list countries.   

The Home Office has been approached for further comment.

Treasury Secretary Jesse Norman yesterday hinted proposals are in motion, saying: 'We don't want to get left behind by countries which may be adopting a two-jab approach if it can be done safely, carefully and securely.'

But a Whitehall source has now suggested the scheme is being accelerated, telling the Sun: 'I don't think we can wait for a long time if it is something that we want to do.' 

The plans are not likely to affect existing rules on red list countries, such as India and Turkey, which require those returning to Britain to quarantine in hotels.

However, there are concerns about an age divide, with the vast majority of older travellers likely to have received both jabs, while younger holidaymakers may have only received one, or not even that, with 18-and-19-year-olds, for example, only invited to book a first dose this week.  

'We don't want to see the oldies getting into fights with youths at the airport,' a source said.

So far, more than 42 million first doses have been administered while more than 30 million have received both jabs. 

The plans are expected to be ready for discussion by the Cabinet's Covid operations committee ahead of a June 28 deadline by which ministers have pledged to review the traffic light system. 

Officials are reportedly discussing how the move would affect those who cannot be vaccinated, whether under-18s should be exempt and whether it would apply to Britons or all arrivals.

Demand for air travel collapsed in March last year when the UK went into lockdown in response to the crisis, with the Government now under pressure to restart international travel by the battered tourism industry.

Bosses of the travel industry are furious that Portugal, which was originally on the green list, was suddenly put on the amber list within weeks.

They also believe that the Balearic and Greek Islands should have been included on the green list. The Balearic island, Majorca, for example, currently has a lower Covid rate than the UK.

It comes as Ryanair and bosses behind three major English airports prepare to take the Government to court over its travel traffic light system, which they say is bringing the industry to its knees.

The budget airline is set to be joined by Manchester Airports Group (MAG) - the operator of Manchester, East Midlands and Stansted airports - in launching a High Court challenge.

The legal bid will seek to force the Government to reveal how it decides which countries are placed on the green, amber and red travel lists.

Outspoken Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary yesterday blasted ministers as 'incompetent' in a scathing attack on the Government's transport policy. 

Speaking to the Telegraph, who first revealed Ryanair's anticipated legal challenge, Mr O'Leary said: 'I've never come across a more incompetent f****** front bench of ministers. 

'I have no faith in (Boris) Johnson's government on any of these issues, having completely mismanaged the original lockdowns last year and the reopening now.'

The Prime Minister's official spokesman insisted during the April disruption that Border Force had the 'right level' of staff despite complaints and chaotic scenes when the unnamed woman appeared unconscious on the floor of UK arrivals. 

At the time, it was understood only a maximum of 20 of the 40 passport control desks at Heathrow Terminal 2 have been manned because of social distancing.

Staff have also been in small bubbles because of Covid-19, preventing groups being deployed when the border becomes busy.

Following the chaos in April, No 10 pushed the blame on passengers, saying people should only travel when 'absolutely necessary' and suggested not enough travellers were filling in their forms correctly or pre-booking tests.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: 'At this stage with where we are on our road map in this global pandemic, people should not be travelling unless absolutely necessary.

'The Border Force has staff there to check passengers are compliant with our border health measures and we continue to ask that passengers completed the necessary requirements to enter the UK in advance - things like purchasing testing packages'. 

It was understood at the time the long delays are being caused by a perfect storm of problems with the Home Office, accused of using a 'rigid and inflexible' bubble system for staff.

This meant those not on the rota for passport control cannot be moved in to ease pressure at peak times, despite social distancing and regular sanitising.

Huge queues were being made worse because electronic-gates could not be used because the Government was yet to fully digitise the 'passenger locator forms', which travellers must fill in before heading to the UK.

Unions claimed Heathrow could use all passport control desks if they had installed screens surrounding each booth, rather than the front-facing ones they chose. 

But they also blamed passengers for failing to fill in the right forms with birder staff they are seeing large numbers of people using fake Covid test certificates that are not properly checked by airlines.

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