Sue Reid and Daniel Martin, Daily Mail, February 13, 2021
At the four star Crowne Plaza Hotel overlooking lawns on the outskirts of London, 20-year-old Abdul from the Sudan says he is pleased with his new life here in Britain.
He proclaims proudly: ‘I was given the vaccination yesterday at the hotel to stop me catching Covid. There are 400 migrants living here and we nearly all had it. No one I know refused.’
Tapping his arm to show the site of the injection, he adds in faltering English: ‘It’s important that we don’t catch the virus and get sick.’
Abdul, who slipped into the UK from France seven months ago, seems blissfully unaware that thousands of Britons older than him, or in vulnerable groups, still await the jab – and may not be offered it for several months.
Neither did he seem to realise that he might be accused of using up a precious dose that could protect others – including key workers – higher on the priority list.
Outside the hotel, the Daily Mail talked to ten other migrants from the Sudan and Eritrea who also took part in what they describe as a ‘mass vaccination’ operation on Thursday this week.
Among them were two Sudanese friends aged 27 and 35. The younger man said he was delighted to be offered it: ‘The vaccinations were given to us whatever our age.
‘We didn’t have to pay. We were told to queue up for them at the hotel. None of us want to catch the coronavirus.’
He added: ‘This was the first vaccination and I don’t know which company made it. We will have another one nearer the summer time.’
A Government spokesman last night said it was ‘totally unacceptable’ for the healthy young migrants to be receiving the jabs contrary to guidelines, and that the NHS was taking action to ensure it did not happen again.
The Crowne Plaza, near Heathrow airport, is among scores of hotels across Britain housing migrants who have slipped into the country illegally by lorry from Europe or on a boat from northern France to the south coast.
Many have been put up at the hotel for weeks – or, like Abdul, even months – as they await their asylum claims to be decided. They say the bedrooms are ‘wonderful’ and the English breakfast ‘very good’.
The migrants are unaware of the controversy now emerging at Government level over the priority list breach.
One 26-year-old Sudanese man explains: ‘I was living rough in Calais until before Christmas when I came to the UK by boat. When I was given this hotel to stay in I was relieved.
‘They serve us too much rice and pasta to eat. It is nearly every meal apart from breakfast. That is the biggest complaint we have.’
A 34-year-old Eritrean woman walking from the hotel at 9am on Friday to buy extra groceries from nearby shops said: ‘I had been in Europe for seven years trying to find a way to get to the UK.’
She arrived last September and is grateful for the hospitality offered by the country.
In a hoodie and mask, she said: ‘Yes, the food at the hotel is so-so,’ she gestures. ‘But Britain has welcomed us.’
Until the Crowne Plaza was taken over for migrant accommodation by the Government, it was the popular haunt of business people travelling in and out of London’s premier airport, those enjoying weekend breaks or visiting the capital for holidays.
In peak seasons, rooms were on offer – including suites – for upwards of £100 a night.
Its website boasts local tourist attractions including Windsor Castle, Legoland, Ascot Racecourse and Twickenham’s Rugby Union stadium.
The migrants are living here courtesy of the Government and can leave the hotel when they wish to wander into nearby West Drayton, to visit the food shops open during the lockdown.
But this is a far cry from the less-than-warm welcome awaiting travellers from 33 ‘red list’ countries flying into Heathrow, and four other English airports, from Monday.
They will find themselves in strictly-guarded quarantine hotels at a cost per head of £1,750 – a rate for accommodation, transfers, food and drink set by the Government.
A few miles away from the Crowne Plaza is the lower-grade three star Ibis Styles Heathrow East hotel, where scores of the arrivals will stay for their compulsory ten nights of isolation.
The travellers will be confined to their rooms apart from short breaks outside for exercise or fresh air, watched over by security guards.
They will be given airline-style food left outside their bedroom doors and have to change their own sheets and towels.
Although the Ibis Styles is a modern hotel with a jazzy, bright interior, it is a step down from the migrants’ Crowne Plaza.
In normal times guests would be charged around £60 for a standard room, which would normally work out at £600 for ten nights, the length of the quarantine period.
Recent guests described it as ‘nice and quiet’ although it is on a bustling suburban street, while others said the beds were ‘comfy’.
However, one writing on travel website Expedia said the rooms were cold and the provided heater did not work. The writer claims a complaint to reception staff resulted in nothing being done.
The quarantine travellers – just like the migrants – will not be able to choose which hotel they stay in.
But those allocated one of the Ibis Styles’s 125 rooms – likely to be Britons returning to their homes or jobs in the UK – might be envious of what is being offered, free of charge, to newcomers to this country.
Certainly, if they find the airline food trays left at their bedroom doors contain pasta or rice, it will be the least of their worries.
And one thing is also certain: A free Covid-19 vaccination – whatever their age – won’t be on the menu. A source said the number of people at the hotel who received a jab was in fact 320, and 80 of them were eligible to get it as they were in the top four priority groups.
Peter Bone, Tory MP for Wellingborough, said: ‘The Government has been very clear on this – we are vaccinating the priority groups first… My constituents will find it amazing if we are vaccinating asylum seekers before vulnerable people at greatest risk.’
A Government spokesman said: ‘We have closely followed the advice of scientific experts on the independent JCVI [Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation] and our first priority is vaccinating the most vulnerable people in society, along with those who care for them, as this will save the most lives.
‘It is totally unacceptable for anyone to ignore this guidance and set their own rules, and we know the NHS in London is taking action to ensure it does not happen again.’
It is understood the jabs were administered by local GPs who took the decision to vaccinate all the asylum seekers, not just those in the priority groups.
The decision was not signed off by NHS London or the Home Office.
Sir David Sloman, regional director for the NHS in London, added: ‘The NHS vaccinates in line with JCVI guidance to ensure those most at risk from coronavirus are vaccinated first and – while this was a rare but unacceptable breach of protocols – we are speaking to the GPs who took this decision independently to ensure it does not happen again.’