Parents of unaccompanied minors travelling back to school in the UK have pleaded with the Government to rethink hotel quarantine rules, with one father demanding: “Don’t lock my children up.”
Hundreds of children whose parents live and work overseas but who attend boarding schools in the UK are keen to return when the Government allows educational establishments to reopen.
But those arriving from countries on the Government’s red list will be required to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days once new rules are introduced on Monday and, with no date set for schools to reopen, parents have been left with a difficult choice.
Karl Feilder, who lives in the United Arab Emirates, has three daughters, two of whom, aged 15 and 17, attend a boarding school near Reading and are hoping to be back in the country once it reopens for on-site learning.
But Mr Feilder, the CEO of a biofuel company, said he would not allow his children to return if it meant quarantining in a hotel alone, telling the PA news agency: “To be perfectly honest, I think anyone in their right mind would not do that with their children and indeed it’s completely mad, completely unnecessary.
“The fact that they haven’t told us when schools are going back means we can’t take the decision now to put them on a plane today or tomorrow to beat the Monday morning deadline.
“They’ve got nowhere to stay in the UK – are they going back to an empty school, or a school that’s closed, or is the school going to be open? We don’t know.”
Priya Mitchell, a school counsellor who lives in Abu Dhabi, decided on Friday to book her 16-year-old daughter on to a flight on Sunday so she could be back in the country ahead of the new rules being brought in.
Ms Mitchell’s daughter, who attends a state boarding school in Gloucester, will have to isolate at her 21-year-old brother’s university accommodation, a studio flat.
“It’s totally ridiculous to put families under this much stress trying to work out what is the best thing for their children,” Ms Mitchell told PA.
Ms Mitchell, 49, a social worker in Hillingdon, where Heathrow is situated, said part of her role was dealing with unaccompanied minors arriving at the airport.
She said she was “astounded” the Government had not given sufficient thought to “vulnerable children” like her daughter.
“What has been published recently by the Government is that if an unaccompanied minor comes back through then a parent in the UK can join that child in a hotel,” she said.
“Well that’s just ridiculous, because all of those children who are returning to school are not returning to parents, they’re returning to schools.”
Ms Mitchell said having a security guard on each hotel floor was insufficient.
“Someone could just turn up to her door and barge in and she could be assaulted,” she said.
“Having worked in child protection and knowing statutory guidelines I’m really disappointed that yet again that’s a gap that is not being filled.”
Mr Feilder, 55, said his daughters – one of whom is scheduled to take GCSEs this year and one of whom is in her first year of A-levels – are finding the uncertainty extremely stressful.
“We try not to talk about it too much because it normally ends in tears,” he said.
“As a parent I feel like I’m completely at sea – I can’t give my children decent answers because I don’t understand the policy of the Government.”
Mr Feilder, who said his whole family has been vaccinated, believes the Government should have introduced mandatory Covid tests for travellers last March and added: “The UK’s policy on this has been pathetic.”
He suggested children returning to the country should be allowed to quarantine at school, adding: “The schools are perfectly well able to look after the kids and make sure they’re staying put.”
Mr Feilder, originally from Newport Pagnell, said that with “fantastic” vaccination programmes in the UK and the UAE it should be possible to have “nice and straightforward travel”.
He added: “We’re quite happy to do the Covid tests, we’re quite happy to do the home quarantine, whatever – just don’t lock my children up.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Children are not exempt from quarantine if they have been in a red-list country in the 10 days before their arrival in the UK.
“Schools are currently closed and we urge parents to carefully consider whether it is essential for children who have been in red-list countries to travel unaccompanied into the UK at this time.
“Where this is unavoidable, we would strongly advise parents put in place arrangements to ensure their children are accompanied by an appropriate adult to carry out the quarantine.”