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Chaos at airports as key workers are ordered to go into self-isolation by controversial app

Chaos at airports as key workers are ordered to go


Air and rail passengers suffered a day of chaos yesterday as the so-called ‘pingdemic’ meant hundreds of transport workers were forced to self-isolate.

There were angry scenes at Heathrow in the morning as passengers crammed into Terminal 5 after dozens of security staff did not turn up for work because they had been ‘pinged’ by the NHS app.

Travellers said it took 90 minutes just to drop off their bags and get through security. Dozens of flights were delayed by up to three hours to allow people to board, with some missing their flights.

Passengers said that at one point, there were just two security lanes open for thousands of travellers.

Heathrow said the chaos was due to staff being ‘pinged’ and ordered to self-isolate by the NHS app. 

Air and rail passengers suffered a day of chaos yesterday as the so-called 'pingdemic' meant hundreds of transport workers were forced to self-isolate

Air and rail passengers suffered a day of chaos yesterday as the so-called ‘pingdemic’ meant hundreds of transport workers were forced to self-isolate

Staff from different shift patterns were brought in to clear the backlog and the airport said the issue was resolved by the afternoon.

Meanwhile, dozens of trains were cancelled due to staff shortages.

Great Western Railway, which runs long-distance trains between London, Devon, Cornwall and South Wales, was among the worst affected. 

It said a reduced timetable was running yesterday because of ‘a shortage of train crew’ due to ‘a significant number of staff having to self-isolate following notification from Test and Trace’.

Several Thameslink services connecting Cambridge with Gatwick airport were also cancelled. 

National Rail said there were cancellations and alterations to services ‘across the railway network’ due to staff shortages.

People queue in the departures building at London Heathrow Airport's Terminal Five building this morning

People queue in the departures building at London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Five building this morning

The fiasco will increase pressure on ministers to water down the controversial self-isolation system. 

There are growing fears that continuing to order people to self- isolate after being in close proximity with a Covid carrier will cripple the economy and public services this summer.

Ministers want the public to continue self-isolating when ‘pinged’ for a month after Freedom Day on Monday.

But thousands, including Tory MPs, have deleted the app to avoid disruption to their lives.

The pandemic has almost completely wiped out air travel from Heathrow, which has fallen to a tenth of previous demand

The pandemic has almost completely wiped out air travel from Heathrow, which has fallen to a tenth of previous demand

Heathrow passenger numbers remain almost 90 per cent down on pre-pandemic levels - but are starting to recover slowly

Heathrow passenger numbers remain almost 90 per cent down on pre-pandemic levels – but are starting to recover slowly

This graph from FlightRadar24 shows a gradual rise in the number of scheduled departures from Heathrow in the past month

This graph from FlightRadar24 shows a gradual rise in the number of scheduled departures from Heathrow in the past month

It is thought as many as 3.5 million a week could be ordered to self-isolate for ten days as Covid cases surge this summer, and Tory MPs say the policy will make a mockery of the Freedom Day lifting of restrictions if allowed to continue until August 16.

Yesterday at Heathrow, passengers began posting pictures and videos of a packed Terminal 5 with little social distancing from 7am.

Among those caught up in the chaos was Grammy Award-winning violinist, Nicola Benedetti. 

Posting a video of snaking queues of hundreds of people trying to clear security, she tweeted: ‘No one can tell us if our flights will be delayed or if we’re about to miss them. Zero information – it’s just awful.’

Alastair Mackie was travelling to Faro in the Algarve. He said: ‘We made our flight at 8.40am – just.

Security at the airport is managed by Heathrow, with officials saying they are ‘experiencing some longer than usual queues’

Security at the airport is managed by Heathrow, with officials saying they are ‘experiencing some longer than usual queues’

‘It took 80 minutes to get from taxi drop-off through to bag drop and security. There were perhaps two machines open for the entire south zone.

‘We then had a 15-minute delay waiting for other passengers who were stuck.

‘They just said they were short-staffed and there were ‘more passengers than we expected’.’

David Simanoff tweeted: ‘I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say there are more than a thousand people in the queue for security at Heathrow right now.

‘And the fast-track line, which I’m eligible for, is closed.’

British Airways passengers were among the worst affected, with delays to dozens of flights between 7am and 1pm.

It is thought a surge in passenger numbers after ministers last week announced fully vaccinated travellers returning from amber countries will be exempt from quarantine exacerbated the situation.

The new measures will kick in on Monday, meaning double-jabbed people could go on holiday for a week to an amber country from yesterday without having to self-isolate on return.

A Heathrow spokesman dismissed reports that up to 120 security staff failed to turn up to work, with sources saying it was more like a few dozen.



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