Journalist Federico Gatti tweeted a picture of passport gates at Gatwick with no staff manning them on Sunday 8 March, writing: “Just landed in London from Milan. Zero checks. No info. How can it be possible?”
It follows the Italian government announcing that the entire Lombardy region, which includes Milan, plus 14 provinces including Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Reggio Emilia, Rimini, Padua and Venice are under quarantine.
The lockdown applies to approximately 16 million people – more than a quarter of Italy’s whole population.
Other travellers confirmed the lack of checks at the airport on social media.
“A friend has had family return from Italy today and confirmed no checks on landing at Heathrow,” tweeted Kate. “It’s like our government don’t care or have any plan of action to prevent the spread of #coronavirus #COVID19.”
Michael Keohan wrote on Twitter: “Not to scaremonger – but I’ve just landed back from Italy at Heathrow. No thermal imaging, no info on Covid-19; just a bit of hand sanitizer if you fancied it! Unreal.”
“Current stats show an alarming increase in infected people in Italy, which probably reflects that they have also tested many more people,” added Lawrie Erasmus on Twitter.
“The UK seems to be waiting for the storm to arrive. At Heathrow today, no screening of my son’s flight from Milan – that cannot be right.”
Italy’s death count from Covid-19 has soared to 366 while confirmed cases are now at more than 7,000.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is now advising against all but essential travel to: the Lombardy region (which includes the cities of Milan, Bergamo, Como) and the provinces of Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Reggio Emilia and Rimini (all in Emilia Romagna); Pesaro e Urbino (in Marche); Alessandria, Asti, Novara, Verbano-Cusio-Ossola and Vercelli (all in Piedmont); Padova, Treviso and Venice (in Veneto).
British nationals remain able to depart Italy without restriction.
Public Health England told The Independent it has implemented various protocols at UK airports, although none include testing for Covid-19.
Measures in place include: briefing cabin crew on symptoms and what to do if someone reports that they have symptoms; the captain calling ahead to warn of any illness on the flight to allow for early risk assessment by public health teams; if anyone on the flight is symptomatic, a general aircraft declaration (GAD) must be submitted to allow for a public health risk assessment and any required action to be taken before disembarkation; information on symptoms and necessary actions is provided to patients while on the flight and/or upon landing (this includes Italy specific posters and leaflets highlighting specific areas).
This process has been in place for Northern Italy since 4 March, and will be rolled out for flights from the whole of Italy by 11 March.
All flights arriving from Italy are met with PHE posters and leaflets at ports in nine different languages. A bespoke poster for Italy has been sent to all airports, seaports and international train terminals to provide clarity to passengers on which areas of Italy are affected.
There is also a public health campaign at ports focused on how to prevent the spread of the virus through hand washing.
A Heathrow spokesperson said: “The welfare of our passengers and colleagues is always our main priority. We continue to work closely with Public Health England officials to facilitate their access to the airport so that they can implement their enhanced monitoring measures. In line with the latest Public Health England advice, we are encouraging passengers and colleagues to maintain good hand hygiene – including washing hands thoroughly – and report any suspected symptoms to NHS 111.
“We also encourage passengers and colleagues with individual questions or concerns about Coronavirus or travel to affected countries to refer to guidance from Public Health England and the Foreign Office.”
“Gatwick is following the advice of Public Health England in full and – like other UK airports – has an advanced monitoring process in place for direct flights from affected areas, including Italy,” said a Gatwick spokesperson.
“The latest advice from Public Health England for passengers is also displayed throughout the terminals and enhanced cleaning is taking place in public areas across the airport.
“The airport remains in regular contact with the relevant authorities to ensure that all the appropriate processes are in place and we will continue to follow their advice on this matter in full.”
A spokesperson for MAG, which operates Manchester, London Stansted and East Midlands airports, told The Independent: “The safety and security of passengers and staff will always be our number one priority.
“We are following guidance from Public Health England. The vast majority of flights scheduled are currently arriving and departing as planned, with no changes to staffing levels or procedures.
“Posters and leaflets are in place to give customers the latest public health guidance, including information about what they should do if they feel unwell on their return.
“We will continue to work with PHE to help determine what further steps would need to be taken, should circumstances change in the future.”
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