Quarantine nightmare in hotel 'like a prison' for West Sussex County Councillor

The vice chairman of West Sussex County Council says his experience in Covid quarantine is a 'violation of human rights'.

Sujan Wickremaratchi says he and his wife Nadeeka were 'trapped' in a small room with no natural light, security guards posted outside, given poor food in cardboard trays and only allowed out into the car park for 20 minutes of fresh air per day.

"We had no daylight," Sujan said. "No fresh air. I couldn't tell if it was day or night unless I looked at my watch. The electricity went off at one point for five minutes and we were just in darkness. There was no explanation.

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"The food has been diabolical. I've paid £3,715 for this hotel room - I can pay and I am not complaining about that because we did visit a country that was in the red zone - but this is like a prison. I've been a British citizen for 45 years and I pay my taxes. This is unacceptable.

Vice chairman of West Sussex County Council Sujan Wickremaratchi and his wife pictured at their quarantine hotel near Heathrow airport

"There were people at the airport who hadn't read the paperwork properly and didn't know about the cost and didn't have the money - they were in tears because they were in serious trouble."

The pair were checked into the hotel on Wednesday morning after a trip to Sri Lanka - which is currently on the government's red list for travel.

"We needed to go to Sri Lanka on a family matter," said Sujan, who is the Conservative county councillor for Haywards Heath Town and former mayor. "There was no problem at all with immigration, we had our British passports and it was all straight forward and fine.

"In Sri Lanka we took all the precautions and were treated with respect. The flight had only 96 passengers on it so there was plenty of space, and we felt safe."

Sujan Wickremaratchi in his time as Haywards Heath Mayor

It was when they got out of Heathrow airport and onto a coach that things started to deteriorate. Sujan said the coach was crowded with passengers from different flights and the driver was not wearing a mask.

"We were in the coach for hours, it was boiling," he said. "We had avoided Covid in Sri Lanka and the flights, had done our PCR tests, but I felt that it was more of a risk catching Covid on that coach."

Sujan said it took two and a half hours to reach the hotel, which should have only been a short drive away. Although they checked in at 9.30am on Wednesday that was 'day zero' of the quarantine period, with Thursday counting as the first of their 11 day isolation.

Dismayed with the lack of daylight, he asked if they could be moved to have a window with a view of the outside. He was told the hotel was fully booked, and any spare rooms were prioritised for Afghan refugees.

Sujan Wickremaratchi said he felt more at risk from catching Covid on the coach journey from Heathrow to the hotel than at any time during his trip to Sri Lanka

Sujan said his aunt had previously stayed in a different hotel under quarantine and that it was fine, but his uncle, who is in his 80s, was currently staying in another near Heathrow and was very distressed about the poor conditions.

"It is a violation of human rights to be shut with no daylight and no access to fresh air. The food is left in cardboard or foil trays outside the door and is appalling, not fit to eat. No proper cutlery. We are treated like dogs - although even dogs get a proper plate.

"Being in here, it makes you worry about your sanity. Just that 20 minutes outside made me feel so much better - before that I was really worrying about what I might do.

"Sri Lanka is moving to the amber list on the 22nd, but we don't know if we'll be allowed out then or if we'll have to stay here until our full 11 days are up."

Sujan Wickremaratchi and his wife were unimpressed with the 'rubberized fish and soggy chips' served in a cardboard container with plastic cutlery

After contacting this newspaper, Sujan says he and Nadeeka were moved to another room with windows which let in daylight.

The hotel involved said this was a government programme and it was following the guidelines, and only received a 'small part' of the money paid by guests. They said the hotel issues raised had been resolved.

But Sujan said he had been contacted by other British citizens staying in quarantine hotels who were 'crying desperately for help' and was speaking out to highlight their plight too.

He says they are only allowed 20 minutes of fresh air per day, and it took more than 20 phone calls pleading before a security guard finally came to escort them outside to the car park, three and a half hours later.

He said security guards were positioned on all floors near the lifts and throughout the corridors as well as in the car park when guests exercise.

Sujan has raised the issues with Mid Sussex MP Mims Davies, and is calling for it to be brought to the attention of the minister. He said. "This is an abuse of our freedoms. I am just so angry about it, I feel desperate. The whole situation is absolutely diabolical.

The pair are unhappy with the quality of the meals on offer

"I am angry, demoralised and feel let down. Paying £3,715 is a lot. We are not criminals we are paying guests. We are both double vaccinated and could have quarantined at home."

The hotel said Sujan and his wife had now been upgraded to an executive room, and their issues resolved.

Responding to the complaint, the hotel said all its windows are sealed to cancel any noise from aircraft, and individually controlled air con units are in every room. It said it did have internal and external facing rooms as all hotels do.

A spokesman added: "All quarantine hotels only provide disposable crockery and cutlery, food is delivered to the room three times a day, with china crockery there is a greater risk of contamination - transmission and also injury to guest and staff as food is left outside the door – these are strict guidelines by DHSC. We served over 700 guests three meals each day – strangely only had one negative feedback and that from Mr Sujan, we have still looked into the matter and resolved the issue straight away."

The hotel said guests are allowed a 20 minute break in the morning and evening, as per quarantine programme guidelines, which are monitored and controlled by G4S not hotel staff.

They added: "This is a government programme – hotel only receives a small part of this money and has no input or say in this, this amount is decided by Government direct. So many agencies are involved in this – transportation – security – Track and Trace – accommodation – meals, that make up the amount decided by the government."

A government spokesperson said: “Our top priority is 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.

“We do everything we can to ensure guests in managed quarantine get the support they need. Quarantine hotels must provide guests with three appropriate meals a day, access to WIFI, welfare and health support, and we expect them to do everything they can to address guests’ needs or concerns.”

The full English breakfast, minus eggs, served in disposable trays
Food is left outside the door in paper bags and disposable trays