A family returning to the UK have said staying in a quarantine hotel was their “worst ever experience” after a mother and baby were left needing hospital treatment.
Abby Pansegrauw, 34, and her one-year-old baby son both had to be treated in hospital, the latter for three days, as a result, they say, of food given to them at Novotel London Heathrow Airport in April.
Staying with her husband, Etienne, and two other children, Mrs Pansegrauw, whose family splits their time between southwest London and Tadpole Village, Wiltshire, was returning after four months stranded in South Africa’s Eastern Cape as a result of the country being placed on the UK’s red list.
They had initially visited family for a short trip in December.
“(Mrs Pansegrauw) ended up on a drip, because she was so dehydrated,” Mr Pansegrauw, 41, who moved to the UK from South Africa in 1999, told the PA news agency.
“The hotel refused to acknowledge it and refused to apologise.
“I would say it’s the worst experience I’ve ever had – not just hotel experience.”
The family said Mrs Pansegrauw could have theoretically spread a Covid-19 variant to two London taxi drivers who transported them.
Mr Pansegrauw said the family had to wait two hours for the hotel to organise transport to the hospital, which they claimed “would be sanitised” but ultimately was a “regular taxi”.
“When the taxi showed up there were wrappers of crisps lying in the backseat, cans of soda, it was filthy,” Mr Pansegrauw added.
At the hospital, Mrs Pansegrauw was placed in a ward with Covid patients – then when she was discharged, she was returned to the hotel by a different taxi and driver.
“That seems ridiculous, doesn’t it really… when you’re dealing with people who you suppose could have Covid,” said Mr Pansegrauw.
“They were very, very unprepared for it.”
A doctor’s report the family showed PA indicates doctors at their hospital believed food poisoning was a likely cause for the mother and son’s illnesses while at Novotel Heathrow.
However, a spokesperson for Novotel said that the company “conducted a detailed investigation” and claimed an attending paramedic “found food poisoning to be unlikely with there being no other cases at the hotel”.
All travellers entering England from the Government’s red list of countries must immediately quarantine for 10 full days in one of a number of hotels.
Despite stays costing over £2,000, excluding flights, some travellers have complained about poor customer service and Covid protocols.
The cost of the Pansegrauws’ stay was £2,400 which, on top of £2,000 for their flight, required them to max out their credit cards.
Despite this, guests had to clean their own room and pay extra per item for their clothes to be washed, Mr Pansegrauw said, and the family’s only kitchen facilities were a mini-fridge and kettle.
The pub owner added there was “nothing healthy” for his children to eat and they were refused requests for “simple things” like spaghetti.
“I’ve never been in prison before, but (the hotel conditions) felt like that was the closest thing to it,” Mr Pansegrauw said.
Quarantine hotels are organised on behalf of the UK government by Corporate Travel Management (CTM), which Mr Pansegrauw also described as “absolutely useless”.
When organising the trip, Mrs Pansegrauw’s phone records show she had to call CTM almost 20 times over three weeks without reply before they could speak to the company.
Two travellers from India told PA they also felt the quarantine system placed them in environments where Covid variants could spread.
PA also found several other travellers who complained about the hotel food, with Paresh Bhundia stating that Novotel Heathrow gave him and his wife several meals with meat despite explicit requests for vegetarian cuisine.
A CTM spokesperson said it has made bookings for more than 27,900 people returning to the UK, and received complaints about the service in hotel quarantine for 1.6% of bookings.
“We are adapting our resources to manage very high volumes of calls from travellers returning to the UK,” they said.
“We are sorry for the long wait times that some travellers have experienced in trying to contact us.”
A spokesperson for Novotel said the company was “disappointed” to hear the Pansegrauws’ feedback, adding that feedback from other guests has overall been “overwhelmingly positive”.
“We of course recognise these are challenging circumstances and we have done all we can to make the experience as comfortable as possible for our guests, including enabling guests to order take-away food deliveries during their stay,” the spokesperson said.
“Any service that falls outside of that, such as security and transport, is the responsibility of other suppliers contracted by the Government.”
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “Our top priority has always been protecting the public and the robust border and testing regime we have in place is helping minimise the risk of new variants coming into the UK.
“The Government continues to ensure every person in quarantine gets the support they need, and all managed quarantine facilities are accommodating the vast majority of people’s requirements.”