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Cambridge woman reveals quarantine hotel chaos

A Cambridge business woman has told of her fears she may be forced to start isolating all over again after “absolute chaos” broke out at her quarantine hotel this morning following a fire alarm.

Tania Verdonk, who owns Spirus Marketing, was staying at the Sofitel Hotel in Gatwick after returning from a trip to South Africa, where she had been caring for her elderly mother following a fall.

She was one of hundreds of travellers from Red List countries staying at the hotel for the enforced quarantine period when the fire alarm went off early this morning leading to social distancing failures as guests gathered in a car park.

Now she is worried she will miss her date for moving house as well as being separated from her two children for even longer if she has to re-start her quarantine.

View from Tania Verdonk's quarantine hotel bedroom overlooking reception area where confused guests still have no idea what has happened. (53621811)
View from Tania Verdonk's quarantine hotel bedroom overlooking reception area where confused guests still have no idea what has happened. (53621811)

She said: “I woke up to the fire alarm going off and ran out of my room - not even wearing shoes - to find out what was happening. There was a security guard on our corridor but when I asked what was going he gave no instructions about whether we should go downstairs. He just said nothing.

“I decided to go down as the alarm was still sounding and guests all squeezed together on the stairs and in the corridors. I saw one woman having a panic attack. When I arrived at the outdoor car park there were hundreds of people all crowded together and no one to tell us what was going on.

Tania Verdonk in her quarantine hotel bedroom. (53621809)
Tania Verdonk in her quarantine hotel bedroom. (53621809)

“Of course we are all meant to be in quarantine but now you’ve just had hundreds of people walking closely together down stairs and through corridors and there seemed to be no plan for how to deal with a fire alarm when guests should be socially distancing. I've worked in hotels before - the fire alarm protocols are literally the first thing you learn.

“It turned out some people had been told to stay in their rooms. If there had been a real fire - and we still don’t know if it was a real fire - they could have been trapped. I saw other guests carrying someone who couldn’t walk down the stairs. Meanwhile around five security guards were standing around but not giving any information. It was just chaos. There was no organisation. It made me feel really unsafe, actually.”

Since the guests returned to their rooms there has been no communication about what this mass mixing event of travellers from Red List countries will mean for their quarantine.

Mrs Verdonk said: “I just can’t bear it if we are told to start our quarantine yet again. I’m missing my children, I had to miss my son’s 17th birthday and I’m due home on the day I move house. This is an absolute shambles and we have paid the hotel more than £2,000 to stay here.”

Other guests at the hotel have shared their experiences on social media, including Terry Locke who filmed the crush as confused guests tried to exit via the stairs.

It reveals guests being told by one member of staff that this was just a drill, while other staff members tell guests to gather in the hotel car park. The film also shows guests passing close to each other on the stairs and confusion about what was happening.

The Department of Health and Social Care is managing the quarantine operation. A spokesperson said: “A hotel contracted by DHSC as a facility for the purpose of Managed Quarantine was temporarily evacuated due to a fire alarm being set off accidentally. All guests were evacuated safely and have returned to their rooms.

“Following the incident we are working with our security providers to ensure the role they play in evacuation as set out within our standard operating procedures is fully understood and adhered to.”

They added that evacuation of a facility does not affect the period of quarantine for guests although made no comment on the fact that hundreds of guests from Red List countries had now mixed in an area that was not socially distanced.

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