A couple stranded in Omicron-stricken South Africa has blasted a Labour frontbench MP for giving ‘completely false travel advice’.
Owen Hancock and Emily Mennie said they were ‘extremely disappointed’ Dr Rosena Allin-Khan told them they would not have to go into a quarantine hotel in the UK.
The newlyweds, 35 and 30, from Tooting, London, asked ‘what planet has our own MP been on that she’s missed all that’ and branded her comments ‘unbelievable’.
The shadow cabinet minister for mental health wrote to them after four days to say ‘those who are fully vaccinated and a British are exempt from hotel quarantine’.
Dr Allin-Khan claimed they would instead have to self-isolate for ten days at home until receiving a negative Day 2 PCR test.
She shared a link to the government website which notes those coming from red-list countries have to follow separate rules – including hotel quarantine.
The shambles comes as furious families blasted British Airways for ‘abandoning’ them in South Africa when the Omicron super-variant struck.
Britons vented at the airline for allegedly ignoring their calls and emails and ‘reselling flights for £12,000’.
They told of their despair at being stuck in the Covid-stricken country and are terrified they will not make it home for Christmas.
The UK government resurrected the red list last week and slapped South Africa on it in a huge blow for winter holidaymakers.
Direct flights were grounded and anyone travelling back now has to be locked up in a quarantine hotel for ten days.
Owen Hancock, 35, and Emily Mennie, 30, from Tooting, London, were ‘frustrated’ when flights were banned and Heathrow’s quarantine hotel was fully booked
The newlyweds, 35 and 30, from Tooting, London, asked ‘what planet has our own MP (pictured) been on that she’s missed all that’ and branded her comments ‘unbelievable’
Bram Davies flew out with his 18-year-old daughter on October 27 so she could see her grandparents, one of whom is ill
Trevor Harrison is pictured left with Gill Harrison at Delaire Graff restaurant in Stellenbosch
Meanwhile Janice Burwood also slammed BA for her experience of being stuck in South Africa with her partner David Jackson (picturedd together)
Long queues outside a Cape Town PCR testing centre are pictured earlier on Friday morning
Robert Kuhner (pictured) from Maidenhead said he was in South Africa as the legal executor of a will that had been delayed for over a year and was now stuck
Trevor Harrison said guests had left the President Hotel Cape Town (pictured on Friday afternoon)
‘Those who are fully vaccinated and a British national are exempt from hotel quarantine’: Dr Rosena Allin-Khan’s reply in full
Thank you so much for your email. I am so sorry to hear that Emily and Owen have been caught up in the recent change to Government travel rules – this must be deeply frustrating.
First of all, I just wanted to confirm if you were aware of exemptions for fully vaccinated British nationals. Those who are fully vaccinated and a British national are exempt from hotel quarantine, and instead quarantine for ten days in their home until receiving a negative Day 2 PCR test. More information can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/travel-to-england-from-another-country-during-coronavirus-covid-19.
As you will likely understand, in light of the Omicron variant and how little we currently know about how it responds to the vaccine, among other things, it is important that transmission is effectively monitored.
Unfortunately, the Government have not indicated when they will end the inclusion of Southern African countries on the red list. However, I will be sure to pass on your concerns to my Labour colleague, Yvette Cooper MP, Shadow Home Secretary, to support the work she is undertaking on this.
We all want this virus to end, and the emergence of the Omicron variant is yet another concerning development for all of us who want to return to a form of normality.
Thank you again for getting in touch.
Mr Hancock and Mrs Mennie told MailOnline how they had written to their local MP Dr Allin-Khan before she dished out the wrong advice four days later.
Mr Hancock said: ‘We are extremely disappointed in the response we have had from our own MP.
‘We have been stressed, anxious and left in limbo by being stranded in South Africa thanks to our own government’s shambolic and suddenly imposed hotel quarantine policy.
‘But we thought that our own MP would give us the urgent assistance we requested last weekend.
‘It’s taken… days for her to get in touch, and now she’s given us completely false advice.’
Mrs Mennie added: ‘It’s clear from the UK Gov website and all the guidance that there is no option but to go into 10 days mandatory hotel quarantine.
‘What planet has our own MP been on that she’s missed all that. You’d have thought a shadow front bench spokesperson would know the rules affecting her constituents. It’s unbelievable.’
Dr Aliin-Khan had written: ‘Thank you so much for your email. I am so sorry to hear that Emily and Owen have been caught up in the recent change to Government travel rules – this must be deeply frustrating.
‘First of all, I just wanted to confirm if you were aware of exemptions for fully vaccinated British nationals. Those who are fully vaccinated and a British national are exempt from hotel quarantine, and instead quarantine for ten days in their home until receiving a negative Day 2 PCR test. More information can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/travel-to-england-from-another-country-during-coronavirus-covid-19.
‘As you will likely understand, in light of the Omicron variant and how little we currently know about how it responds to the vaccine, among other things, it is important that transmission is effectively monitored.
‘Unfortunately, the Government have not indicated when they will end the inclusion of Southern African countries on the red list. However, I will be sure to pass on your concerns to my Labour colleague, Yvette Cooper MP, Shadow Home Secretary, to support the work she is undertaking on this.
‘We all want this virus to end, and the emergence of the Omicron variant is yet another concerning development for all of us who want to return to a form of normality.’
The MP then signed off with her email signature, suggesting it was from her rather than an aide. Dr Allin-Khan has been approached for further comment.
Earlier today Britons blasted British Airways over its response them being stranded in South Africa.
Bram Davies flew out with his 18-year-old daughter on October 27 so she could see her grandparents, one of whom is ill.
They left his wife and three sons back in the UK for the dream trip after not seeing his parents throughout the pandemic.
Couple stuck in South Africa because Heathrow quarantine hotel is ‘FULLY BOOKED’
A couple has blasted Britain’s Covid travel system as a ‘shambles’ after they were forced to delay their return from South Africa.
Owen Hancock, 35, and Emily Mennie, 30, from Tooting, London, were ‘frustrated’ when flights were banned and Heathrow’s quarantine hotel was fully booked.
The newlyweds, who both work in digital marketing, said they will have to use a credit card to pay off the mammoth £4,000 bill for ten days in isolation.
Owen Hancock, 35, and Emily Mennie, 30, from Tooting, London said they will have to use a credit card to pay off the mammoth £4,000 bill for ten days in isolation
Mr Hancock and Mrs Mennie, who was born in South Africa, were visiting her family for the first time since Covid struck nearly two years ago.
They left on November 18 and had planned their return into Heathrow for this Saturday – but there were no spare rooms in the quarantine hotel.
When they called, they got an automated message saying: ‘Unfortunately due to customer demand there is no availability for the date selected.’
It added: ‘Please rearrange your travel dates if possible, or try your search again later today.’
They said they were also on hold with British Airways for over three hours – which cost £100 – trying to make arrangements along with countless other passengers.
The couple said they were furious with policymakers for not giving them time to get home before slapping South Africa on the red list amid Omicron.
They claimed the government should fund their flights back because they were given no choice about rescheduling and the cost of the quarantine.
Mrs Mennie told MyLondon: ‘To add insult to a giant financial injury, now we can’t even book the hotel quarantine, because there are no rooms available.
‘Not only do we get slapped with a huge cost, we can’t get home now because the Government hasn’t got its act together – it’s a shambles.’
He said he thought the trip would be safe and was shocked when his wife called him last Friday at 1am to say South Africa was chucked on the UK’s red list.
But he was fuming when he got a text from BA two hours later telling him his flights last Saturday were scrapped, despite the firm not answering his calls.
Mr Davies told MailOnline: ‘Of course I went into panic and called BA at 4am and waited for well over three hours to get through to be told our flights were cancelled due to the government putting South Africa on the red list.
‘They said they would be in contact within 24/48 hours with an update – that was it no support or any reassurance was offered.’
He said since then he has still not been contacted by the airline outlining alternative planes even though several travel agents said flights were back on.
Mr Davies told how every time he tries to call them he is put on hold for ‘several hours’.
He said: ‘I would have thought BA might have moved heaven and earth to create at least another email address as an alternative for everyone stuck here but nothing.’
He continued: ‘We feel absolutely abandoned by BA and the UK Goverment. We travelled when advised and stuck to the rules religiously to avoid the quarantine.
‘But now because the Government moved the goal posts so quickly we are stuck here and if and when we can get back we will need to pay for quarantine through no fault of our own.’
He said he is terrified he and his daughter will be stuck outside the UK for Christmas.
He added: ‘I’ve now been torn apart from my wife and kids in the UK and my daughter from her mum and brothers till when I don’t know.
‘My daughter suffers from anxiety so its been extremely difficult for her to deal with this separation so for now we stuck here unable to return because I don’t think my daughter can deal with being confined for 10 days and secondly because of the prohibitive cost.
‘I feel sad for my daughter because of the mental cost and damage this will do to her in the longer term.
‘Even now she’s been saying to me I’m never going to travel or leave home again because of whats happened and that saddens me because no one ever takes into account the mental impact of such actions.’
Meanwhile Janice Burwood also slammed BA for her experience of being stuck in South Africa with her partner David Jackson.
She said the airline wanted £12,000 for flights on Saturday after her original ones were cancelled on Wednesday. BA disputed the figure.
She said: ‘Eventually we had to book cheaper seats but no refund for the business class seats we have paid for. BA also want £146 to select our seats.’
She added: ‘We had to pay for a second PCR test too. German and Swiss guests in our hotel are horrified at the way we are being treated by our own country.’
Passengers wait to board Ethiopian Airlines flight ET 846, one of the few international flights leaving Cape Town earlier this week
All those arriving in Britain directly from red list countries have to quarantine in hotels at Heathrow and can only fly into that airport and Birmingham. Pictured: Cape Town this week
Data in South Africa shows the R-rate has soared to over three per cent in recent weeks as Omicron took hold in Gauteng province
Pilots’ union calls for government to provide Winter Resilience Fund
Pilots’ union Balpa called for the Government to provide a Winter Resilience Fund to ensure cash-strapped airlines and other aviation companies survive the coming months.
Even before the pandemic, airlines were often loss-making during the winter season, relying on profits made during the summer.
But the recovery during the summer was limited, partly due to quarantine and testing requirements.
The furlough scheme, which was widely used by travel companies, ended on September 30.
Balpa general secretary Martin Chalk said: ‘Support to aviation dried up at the end of summer, yet the principle of supporting loss-making industries whilst Government restrictions prevent business as usual applies as much now as it ever did.
‘Holiday and New Year traffic is a core part of the winter season for airlines.
‘With this being severely depressed by shattered confidence and restrictions, we need winter support measures to help us weather the storm of Omicron uncertainty.
‘This will ensure we are able to compete with the rest of the world come summer 2022, when we will be needed to take the UK’s ambitions to every corner of the globe.’
Balpa wants mandatory PCR tests for arriving fully-vaccinated travellers to be funded by the Government rather than requiring people to use ‘cowboy’ private firms.
It also called for restrictions to be backed up by data.
Mr Chalk said: ‘Pilots by their very nature are safety-conscious and understand the desire to protect public health.
‘But the measures and restrictions put in place by the Government must be proportionate to risk, based on data and not unnecessarily penalise travellers, including families reuniting for Christmas and the New Year.
‘It is vital the Government helps rebuild public confidence and supports aviation by removing the barriers, such as costly private testing, that are putting people off travelling.’
The Omicron Covid mutation was found by scientists earlier this month and while little is known about the new variant there are concerns it could evade vaccines.
The UK brought in mandatory face masks in shops and on public transport and people now have to take a PCR test and self isolate when arriving from abroad.
All those arriving in Britain directly from red list countries have to quarantine in hotels at Heathrow and can only fly into that airport and Birmingham.
Arrivals have to go to the room via transport provided in their quarantine package – not by any other private or public method.
When they get in the UK they have to hand over a completed passenger locator form to Border Force as well as their passport and negative Covid test.
Officers then escort them through the airport with other passengers in the same situation and they all have to wear face coverings.
In the quarantine hotel they have to stay in their room – which is assigned to them and not a choice – for the full ten days, with staff providing their meals throughout.
There are 4,600 rooms in 16 hotels for those quarantining. These include Novotel London Heathrow, Renaissance London Heathrow, Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel, near Heathrow, St Giles Heathrow and Holiday Inn, on the M4.
Mr Davies and Ms Burwood’s haunting experience of being stuck away from home was reflected by dozens of other tourists last night.
Jennie Bianco said she was stuck in South Africa with her husband and six-year-old son after flying out for a photo shoot for her job in marketing.
She branded the travel chaos as a ‘total nightmare’ after she was told there were no rooms in the UK’s hotel quarantine for them.
She said: ‘We had flights booked to leave this morning but there were no family rooms in the quarantine hotel.
‘We now have flights booked on 6th – which we had to pay £250 to amend and £560 on accommodation until then.
‘We will also be faced with the £4,000 bill for the hotel, which again isn’t confirmed until 24 hours before you fly so we don’t know if this is going to be extended again.’
Mrs Bianco, a type one diabetic, said she has insulin to last until December 6 with her husband, who is on blood thinners, storing enough medication until the same day.
She also said she was worried for her son’s mental health, having adopted him three years ago.
Ruth Horton, another Briton stuck in Cape Town, said she was also struggling to get a spot at a quarantine hotel in the UK.
She said: ‘The first quarantine hotel at the moment is available 13th Dec, however we can’t book it unless we have a flight and we can’t get through to BA to make changes.
‘We should be leaving this Sunday, we had our PCR test this morning, and if we head back on 15th, then we will be in quarantine for Christmas.
‘It is a nightmare and nobody in the UK government seems to care or can be bothered to help.’
Robert Kuhner from Maidenhead said he was in South Africa as the legal executor of a will that had been delayed for over a year.
He said: ‘I was naive enough to trust the UK government. I seem to find myself in no man’s land.’
He went on: ‘The UK government raced into a set of extreme travel measures on November 26th a few days before my planned return to Maidenhead.
‘I called my insurance company on the 26th. They responded to me on December 1st.
‘They say that travel disruption from government imposed restrictions for a pandemic is not covered in insurance.’
He continued: ‘I flew out here with Lufthansa, return on Swissair. I had a nice e-mail from Swissair, who would not allow me to board.
‘Swissair said that their government will not allow me to transit in Switzerland and to call Expedia, who said call Swissair, who said call Expedia.
‘So I tried Lufthansa – I bought the ticket through them – who said it must be Expedia. So I called Expedia… who said, call Swissair.
‘I complained to Expedia in the USA. Who checked and said, yes, we can change it to any new date that I want.
‘But when will either the Swiss or German governments allow transit from SA? Nobody knows.
‘So I made the return ticket on Lufthansa for December 22nd. Maybe I can transit, maybe not? I may have to keep on kicking that can down the road.’
Their frustration comes as South Africa (pictured, Cape Town this week) is being hit by a fourth wave of Covid driven by the Omicron variant, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said on Friday
Graph shows: The UK Health Security Agency’s (UKHSA) most recent estimate for the R rate — the number of people someone with Covid infects — in Britain on November 19. The R rate has never gone above 1.6 in the country, less than half the current estimate in South Africa
Was LOCKDOWN behind TUI Airways jet’s 1,200ft horror plunge?
The rapid plunge of a Tui Airways plane on approach to Aberdeen Airport has been linked to its pilots being grounded for long periods during the coronavirus pandemic, a report has found.
Sixty-seven passengers and six crew were on board the flight when it was involved in a ‘serious incident’ as it approached Aberdeen Airport on September 11.
It was instructed to climb to 3,000ft but plummeted rapidly back down to 1,780 – with a report suggesting the pilots’ lack of flying during lockdown may have been to blame.
A graph showing how the Tui plane rose up to 3,000 ft before rapidly plummeting downwards and eventually rising again
And Trevor Harrison added: ‘This has all got completely out of hand.
‘We are punished heavily for taking a holiday in a country where no particular Covid warnings were in place and which is suffering a much lower incidence of Covid than the UK.’
Their frustration comes as South Africa is being hit by a fourth wave of Covid driven by the Omicron variant, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said on Friday.
Omicron, which has raised global fears of a surge in infections, was first detected in southern Africa last month.
It prompted governments across continents to impose travel curbs and take other measures to contain it.
Phaahla told a media briefing that he hoped the variant could be managed without causing too many deaths.
He urged South Africans to get fully vaccinated, adding that the country could manage the fourth wave without stricter lockdown restrictions over Christmas.
He said: ‘We can still manage this in a manner where government doesn’t have to invoke serious restrictions over the next few days if we all just do our basic duties of the safety measures, but also if more and more of us who are eligible … approach their nearest vaccination sites.’
Top scientist Michelle Groome of South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases said the country was facing an ‘unprecedented rise’ in infections.
The cases were also moving from the younger age cohort into older people, she said.
It was important for surge preparedness to include paediatric beds and staff as there has been increased admissions among children under four, she said.
Omicron was last week listed as a ‘variant of concern’ by the WHO and scientists are still gathering data to establish how contagious and deadly it is.
A BA spokesman said: ‘As a result of the UK Government placing South Africa on to the red list, we continue to closely monitor the situation and adjust our schedule accordingly’ (file photo)
Spain bans unvaccinated Brit travellers aged 12 and over
Families hoping for a winter getaway face heightened restrictions as Spain, France and Portugal tighten their border rules.
Fresh curbs are being introduced in response to the Omicron variant, with non-vaccinated British travellers aged 12 and over now banned from entering Spain.
From tomorrow, UK arrivals in France must provide proof of a negative Covid test – even if they are fully jabbed. And in Portugal, all holidaymakers must take a pre-travel PCR or lateral flow test. Switzerland requires British arrivals to quarantine for 10 days.
A BA spokesman said: ‘As a result of the UK Government placing South Africa on to the red list, we continue to closely monitor the situation and adjust our schedule accordingly.
‘We would like to reassure customers that we are doing everything we can to support them, and still the 1st December we have been operating one flight per day back to the UK from both Johannesburg and Cape Town.
‘Despite these flights being busy we do still have some limited seats available over the coming days, and any customers currently mid-way through their journey in South Africa who wish to return early can move their flight free of charge. Any customers returning to the UK will be required by the Government to enter hotel quarantine on arrival.
‘Customers who wish to change their flights can contact us on a priority local phone line to speak with our dedicated team on +27 10 344 0130. We are currently experiencing a high volume of calls and appreciate customers patience while we continue to assist as many people as possible.
‘Any customers that would prefer to take a voucher for future use as part of our ‘Book with Confidence’ policy can apply for this via our website at ba.com without the need to call us, and anyone booked through a travel agent should contact them directly.’
Grant Shapps rules out pre-departure Covid tests for UK arrivals as he warns the checks could ‘kill off the travel sector again’ and says vaccine passports are now ‘the norm’ for international travel
- Labour has urged the Government to introduce pre-departure Covid testing
- But Grant Shapps suggested the move would ‘kill off the travel sector again’
- Transport Secretary said the Government’s response to Omicron is ‘calibrated’
Grant Shapps has rejected calls from Labour and Government scientific experts to introduce pre-departure coronavirus testing for all UK arrivals.
The Transport Secretary said ministers do not want to unnecessarily ‘kill off the travel sector again’.
He insisted the Government has brought forward a ‘calibrated response’ to the new Omicron Covid variant ‘which doesn’t take us right back to the beginning of this’.
Mr Shapps also said he believes vaccine passports will be ‘the norm’ for international travel for the foreseeable future.
Grant Shapps has rejected calls from Labour and Government scientific experts to introduce pre-departure coronavirus testing for all UK arrivals
The Transport Secretary said ministers do not want to unnecessarily ‘kill off the travel sector again’
The Government has introduced a requirement for all UK arrivals to take a PCR test on or before the second day following their arrival in the country. Travellers must self-isolate until they test negative.
But Boris Johnson is under pressure to further tighten the testing requirements to better protect against importing cases of Omicron.
Leaked papers from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) suggested testing people for Covid before they travel to the UK would be ‘valuable’.
The documents, seen by the BBC, also said the Government’s current policy of testing people within two days of arrival in the country would identify ‘significantly fewer cases’ than having additional tests on days five or eight.
The advice was contained in minutes of a meeting of the scientists on Monday and has been seized on by Labour, which has called for pre-departure tests for everyone coming to the UK.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said it was ‘totally unacceptable that ministers are failing to take action at the border when even their own advisers are telling them to introduce pre-departure tests’.
But Mr Shapps rejected the call for pre-departure tests when he was asked about the issue during an interview on The Telegraph’s Chopper’s Politics podcast.
The Transport Secretary said: ‘Lots of countries do require if you are going to them for pre-testing. We are not requiring that at the moment.
‘I heard the Leader of the Opposition calling for that from the despatch box at Prime Minister’s Questions this week.
‘Do you want to kill off the travel sector again, without knowing that you need to? Or do you want to take the right level of calibrated response?
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper (pictured second right) said it was ‘totally unacceptable that ministers are failing to take action at the border when even their own advisers are telling them to introduce pre-departure tests’
‘And this Government thinks we should take a calibrated response which doesn’t take us right back to the beginning of this.’
The Government has pledged to review the curbs it has introduced to slow the spread of Omicron after three weeks.
Mr Shapps was also asked if unvaccinated people are likely to find life increasingly difficult because of vaccine requirements.
He replied: ‘Not to be awkward to those people but actually to protect everybody else, I think it is just inevitable that the norm for travel globally is going to be ‘have you been vaccinated’ in the same way as for many years if you wanted to go to certain countries you can’t go without a yellow fever certificate passport.’