Travellers who were staying at a quarantine hotel awoke to scenes of chaos this morning after they were initially told not to leave their rooms during a fire alarm before being packed together with ‘zero social distancing’.
The guests, some still wearing their pyjamas, were pictured huddled together in large groups, despite being told they must isolate from others, at the four-star Hotel Sofitel at London Gatwick on Thursday morning.
Eyewitnesses told MailOnline they were initially told to stay in their rooms, despite the fire alarm’s siren blaring around them, before eventually being allowed to leave 15 minutes later by security.
Panicked patrons, both young and old, clutched towels as they were squeezed together in the car park as hotel staff desperately tried to grapple with the situation. Those mixing outside included guests who had arrived from red-list destinations.
Furious travellers, many of whom have paid upwards of £3,700 to quarantine at Sofitel, slammed the lack of social distancing and said they believed Thursday morning’s chaos was a ‘superspreader event’.
MailOnline understands he emergency services were eventually called and restored control of the situation after around an hour.
Guests, some still wearing their pyjamas, were pictured huddled together in large groups, despite being told they must isolate from others, at the four-star Hotel Sofitel at London Gatwick
Eyewitnesses told MailOnline that people of all ages, from babies to pensioners in a wheelchair, were panicking as they were caught up in the chaos at Sofitel Gatwick on Thursday
Travellers, some from red-list countries, were allowed to freely mix with other guests in the car park a the Sofitel Hotel in Gatwick on Thursday
Video shot at the scene by exasperated travellers showed dozens of people standing outside as two young members of Sofitel staff tried to conduct a roll call using a loudspeaker.
In one clip, security guards inexplicably told the guests to ‘go back to bed’ after the fire alarm, while others were still being shepherded out of the building.
Half-dressed patrons, some cradling babies and reassuring young children, were largely left to their own devices until the emergency services arrived, eyewitnesses explained to MailOnline.
Almost all were seen wearing their face coverings, while some were pictured wrapped in industrial blankets to protect them from the cold.
‘It was freezing cold,’ said one guest, who did not wish to be identified.
‘There were elderly people and mothers with babies there. A staff member with a megaphone was trying to read a roll call of guests but no-one could hear. It was ridiculous.
‘When we went back into the hotel there was congestion on the stairs and lifts. It was chaotic really. The hotel needs to look long and hard at all its procedures to ensure it had the ability to look after quarantining travellers in safety.’
MailOnline understands that the guests, who spent about an hour outside in chilly 35.6F (2C) temperatures, are now back inside.
Sofitel and Sussex Police have been contacted to provide comment.
Pierre de Villiers, 50, a travel journalist who had arrived from Cape Town told Mail Online that the alarms began to go off shortly before 8am.
‘Everyone was in panic coming out of their rooms and wanting to get out of their rooms in case there really was a fire. There was no one from the hotel around at first. It was very chaotic. Eventually a guard came up and told us not to leave the hotel but he didn’t seem to know if there was a fire or not so no one was doing that.
‘We found our way out of the fire escapes and out into the airport. There were dozens of people who had all been cooped up along all spilling out together.
Quarantining travellers told MailOnline that Thursday morning’s chaos at Sofitel Gatwick was like a ‘superspreader event’
Half-dressed patrons, some cradling babies and reassuring young children, were largely left to their own devices until the emergency services arrived
MailOnline understands that the guests, who spent about an hour outside in chilly 35.6F (2C) temperatures, are now back inside
Eyewitnesses told MailOnline they were initially told to stay in their rooms, despite the fire alarm’s siren blaring around them, before eventually being allowed to leave 15 minutes later by security
‘There were women with babies, young children, an old person in a wheelchair, people still in their pyjamas, all in a panic.
‘Airport security then showed up and started trying to get everyone together in a group – and people were saying ‘What are you talking about – we are meant to be isolating… we have to remain distanced’.
‘So we were spilling out onto the road as no one wanted to stand close to anyone else – and that meant the crowd was blocking the cars coming in trying to drop people off for flights.
‘Finally the police got involved and started calming things down.
‘Blankets were brought out to keep people warm who had fled half-dressed. And the Fire Brigade showed up so finally it was declared safe to return.
‘But the whole episode was a shambles – as if they hadn’t adapted their normal fire drill to allow for it being a quarantine hotel. Total chaos.’
Mr de Villiers, who came to the UK 23 years ago and lives in London, said guests were spilling down an embankment onto the road and police were forced to close a slip-road which leads to an airport departure drop-off.
He said: ‘People refused to be herded together. We didn’t want to create some sort of fire crews, police and an ambulance turned up at the hotel at Gatwick.’
Guests say staff came out with blankets and towels to keep guests – many of whom were dressed in just their pyjamas – warm.
Guests criticised the hotel’s lack of organisation during the fire alarm and described conditions as ‘unsafe’ with ‘zero social distancing’
One video shot at the scene saw two people arguing with a member of security about the chaotic evacuation procedure
One video shot at the scene saw two people arguing with a member of security about the chaotic evacuation procedure, while other clips showed showed hundreds of confused guests waiting for further instruction.
Others criticised the hotel’s lack of organisation during the fire alarm, and described conditions as ‘unsafe’.
Robert Lee, who had arrived at the hotel just hours before, was told he was not able to leave his room by security guards despite the fire alarm going off around him.
Mr Lee explained that he was finally able to leave his room ‘an hour later’, but there were no senior managers around and hotel staff still are ‘unaware’ of who made it out of the hotel.
Other patrons took to social media to vent their frustration at the pandemonium at Sofitel
Sally Buckmaster tweeted: ‘Chaos at Gatwick Sofitel with guests told to stay in their rooms during a fire alarm and then evacuated in unsafe conditions and left to stand in the freezing cold’.
The Sofitel has 518 guest rooms and 11 meeting rooms and is connected to Gatwick North Terminal via a covered walkway. The South Terminal is a two-minute monorail journey away.
It comes as it was revealed families desperate to get back to Britain from red list countries are now being forced to split up and quarantine in hotels up to 100 miles apart.
A lack of available rooms for returning travellers in London has forced parents to separate from their children as the Government scrambles to increase capacity.
Government officials have now doubled the number of quarantine hotel rooms available after the expansion of the red list to include 11 countries in recent days.
One family from Sheffield returning from South Africa have been forced to split up with the mother in one room and their six-year-old son with the father in another.
They were told they could not all stay in one double room and instead had to pay for two rooms which will cost them more than £4,500, reported The Times.
The Dale family including parents Rachel (left) and Jason (second right) and their daughters Lilly (left), 15, and Poppy (right), 18, who arrived at London Gatwick Airport on Tuesday
Lewis Hunt and Ebony Cox stand next to their suitcases after arriving at Gatwick on Tuesday
A family from Sheffield returning from South Africa were forced to split up with the mother in one room at Gatwick and their six-year-old son with the father in another in Milton Keynes
A quarantine room at the Holiday Inn Express at Heathrow Terminal 4, pictured this week
How much quarantine hotels cost passengers
Here are the prices of quarantine hotels which have to be paid for those returning from red list countries:
- 1 adult in 1 room for 10 days (11 nights) – £2,285
- Additional rate for 1 adult (or child over 11) – £1,430
- Additional rate for a child aged 5 to 11 – £325
- Child under 5 – free
The price includes transport to and from the hotel; accommodation, food and drink for the whole of the stay; and any Covid-19 tests which need to be taken during the quarantine period.
One of the hotels is at London Gatwick and the other in Milton Keynes. Their MP Olivia Blake criticised the ‘ridiculous’ situation and said she knew of other examples.
The hotels cost £2,285 for 11 nights for one adult in one room, then £1,430 for an extra adult or child over 11, and £325 for a child aged 5 to 11. Under-fives are free.
A Government spokesman told MailOnline: ‘The quarantine measures we have in place are minimising the risk of variants coming into the UK and safeguarding the hard-won progress of our vaccination programme.
‘The majority of passengers who have used the Managed Quarantine Service have been satisfied with the service and we aim to keep families together. We would advise guests to raise any concerns with hotel staff in the first instance.’
It comes as travel industry leaders accused the government of over-reacting and demanded a package of financial support for an industry facing a collapse in bookings and mass cancellations.
British Airways’ chairman and chief executive, Sean Doyle, said: ‘The blanket re-introduction of testing to enter the UK, on top of the current regime of isolation and PCR testing on arrival is completely out of step with the rest of the world, with every other country taking a measured approach based on the science.
‘Our customers will now be faced with uncertainty and chaos and yet again this a devastating blow for everyone who works in the travel industry.’
Travel industry trade body, ABTA, said: ‘The re-introduction of pre-departure tests will be a huge blow to travellers and an already devastated travel industry, which has been the hardest hit sector throughout the crisis and which is now fast approaching the key booking season for next summer.
‘While we have always been clear that public health must be the priority at this time, the Government must now step up to save jobs and businesses.’
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