We've been living abroad for 10 years, my husband retired on Monday after 35 years with the company. Over the past few weeks we sold cars, shipped furniture, closed accounts, vacated our home and moved into an apartment and had a flight booked for June 15th.
On Tuesday last week we discovered we could fly home via Amsterdam so flight booked at the earliest date which was June 3rd.
Once we had our flights booked we checked on the KLM website, the UK government and followed the instructions that would enable us to fly.
We had considered staying in Dubai until it came off the red list, but flights had already been cancelled and pushed back and we could risk ending up staying in Dubai for longer, our visa had been cancelled and we had to leave within 30 days and still end up hotel quarantining regardless.
So we took the hit and paid the £2400 for an 11 day stay, arranged covid tests within 72 hours of travel at the cost of £60 and completed the passenger locator forms online.
And that was it, no further information, other than hotel quarantine confirmed with the name of hotel.
On arrival in Birmingham after a 4 hour stop over in Amsterdam, we left the plane and made our way to passport control where there was a divide of passengers for Red Country arrivals, which we followed and with all our paperwork which we presented to Border control.
This is where is went wrong. We were handed a piece of paper to sign stating we'd been identified as a risk and were to follow instructions or we'd be arrested. We identified ourselves, it was not a good start with the Home Office, all the issues we had were with them.
We were escorted to collect our bags and wait for the bus, there was a big drama made in the arrival hall of escorting us through an almost empty area announcing our arrival and stating they were Home Office. Our escort could sense the tension and he stood back, when he did speak to us he was very kind and explained what would be happening, he stated he was contracted with HMRC. The bus driver was very officious, making us sit in certain seats, which is fine and understandable but he spoke to us as if we were stupid and deserving of no civility at all. There were 5 of us in total on the flight, all British but from different ethnic backgrounds.
On arrival in the hotel a new security team greeted us, the bus driver again was short and rude and made a huge show of spraying down everything we'd been near, there was a crisp packet on the seat tray and food crumbs so he wasn't doing a good job anyway. Check in at the hotel felt rushed, we'd waited for someone in front of us to move to the 2nd window. There was no 'welcome to the hotel' it was difficult to take everything in. We were then passed to the 2nd window to a woman who read off a sheet, talked at us and made it quite clear she was struggling with having to deal with us. We later found out she was home office also. The staff who escorted us to our room helped with the cases and were friendly and polite.
We were given a pile of paperwork with do's and don'ts and most insultingly instructions on how to safely put on a mask and wash our hands.
The days have pretty much been a blur marked by food delivery to mark the passing of time. I've been walking 10,000 steps a day like a caged tiger in the room and Peter has been outside for 20 mins daily. I'm opting not to go out as it's farcical with clip boards, hi-vis jackets and walkie talkies 'room 241 approaching the lift' and 'room 241 come in, your time is up'
Day 1 The following morning the kitchen rang to ask about my wheat free diet as we'd had to fill in the menu sheet for the 10 days the previous night and despite me stating this at the time of booking it hadn't been passed onto the hotel. The kitchen have been fantastic and the food has been great. The staff who have delivered the food have been great also.
Day 2 went badly from the start, I didn't get much sleep, the sun was shining and we'd not heard a word from anyone, I felt caged, trapped, badly treated and wanted some answers. We tried calling the numbers on the information sheets we'd been given for support, but nothing, numbers rang out, directed to websites that just advised on how to isolate and keep yourself well physically and mentally, info on exercise, keep in touch with family and friends and ask for help are already known. I eventually got through to the local police station to ask for information on what would happen if I left the hotel and chose to return home to isolate and was informed rather rudely by Linda that I would be arrested and I would be forcibly taken back to the hotel to restart the 10 day isolation. At that point I released I had more questions to answer as I am currently being detained by the Home Office, I might as well be in a prison or jail. There are security stationed outside our rooms.
The people doing the PCR tests were shouting about the time scale and to hurry up, just folding the bloody box was complicated then it was 2 hours before they collected the boxes anyway.
Day 3 I woke with a migraine after crying myself to sleep, day passed in a blur.
Day 4 Still got a migraine and now mouth ulcers. We requested housekeeping for fresh sheets and towels and every evening a trolley comes round with supplies of toiletries, loo roll, cleaning wipes, tea, sugar etc, bin bags. We can also have room service but we packed some wine and snacks in our suit cases.
Home office came round to get our PCR results, just knocked on door and asked to see email. No 'Hi I'm from the Home Office' just a clip board and a demand.
Day 5 No idea what happened, probably in a bad mood. On Peter's daily exercise with his handler, he spoke to other guests/prisoners whose day 2 and day 8 tests had been lost, meaning they had to stay longer in the hotel at their own expense.
Day 6 We received a message from track and trace to state we'd been in contact with someone who had tested positive for covid. I rang down to the front desk and said that whilst I appreciate they can't give details and I didn't want names anyway, that if it was a guest or a staff member what were we to do and what measures were in place to ensure no further spread of the virus would occur. The response I got was 'we can't discuss this with you and tell you who it was' I said that's not what I'd asked for and was met with 'calm down madam, don't shout at me' someone has been on a training course about keeping safe in the work place. I dialled back to reception, spoke to a woman explained what had happened and she said 'sorry that was home office staff' I asked if she realised that it reflected on the hotel and she said she'd speak to the management team. I felt a lot better.
Day 7 We received our first track and trace call, it was ridiculous, read off a crib sheet and we're not self isolating it's completely different, which I explained to the man who phoned and he was more than happy to discuss this with me and feed back to his line managers. He also arranged a call from Here to help in Worcestershire for a friendly ear and some help with sourcing contacts. We discovered the person who tested positive was on the flight from Amsterdam to Birmingham and not someone who is quarantining with us, which begs the question as to why Amber flights are being allowed or why none residents are being allowed into the country at the moment and why we can't isolate at home instead of being locked up. We spent the rest of the day resetting Peter's apple account, just don't......
I'll let you know next week how the check out went and if there is any follow up from the complaints we have made.
Day 8 PCR tests taken today, we've been warned the test may be void and in which case we will have to stay until they get us another one. Even if the results come through in 24 hours, we still have to stay to Day 11.
Day 9 Both PCR tests negative, yet we have to wait here till midnight tomorrow with no further testing, it feels like a pointless exercise now. Was told by the Home Office Staff on the front desk, they'll talk to us tomorrow between 2-4pm about our discharge time and protocol. According to the 'info' they gave us, we just have to show 2nd negative test to a hotel member of staff.
Day 10 Taxi booked for midnight. Yesterday when we asked what the process was to leave the hotel we were told the `Home Office people would call to arrange, when I asked why they copuldn't check the PCR paperwork so if anything was wrong we'd have time to sort they said they were too busy with checking out everyone else. Today when we asked around 2pm, we were told they're on their lunch and they'll call the room at 4pm. Too busy? Procedures changed overnight?
We were just hanging around all day, there is no reason for it, no one to ask questions from, no one to provide any guidance and support. The whole experience has been shocking, one I will never repeat and to all of you saying 'just get on with it' or 'I'd love a 10 night stay in a hotel' or 'be grateful you don't have kids with you' just know this:
Apparently No one else has complained, at all. A man could be heard shouting in the corridor last week, a woman was seen crying under the window and people are writing messages and claiming PCR tests have been lost.
This was an unlawful 10 night detention by the Home Office for people from certain countries, not holiday makers, not business people, but people who are British, have been living abroad and have made a very difficult decision and a huge financial input to return to their home country for a reason.