Sheffield dad ‘persecuted for doing his job’ as he self-isolates inside a quarantine hotel

A Sheffield dad forced to self-isolate in a quarantine hotel for 10 days following a work trip has likened his experience to prison.

Thursday, 25th February 2021, 1:19 pm

Self-employed Tom Starey, 40, who lives in Ecclesall, is cooped up in a hotel overlooking a Heathrow Airport runway after returning to the UK from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) via Bahrain on Monday.

He was working in Dubai and the UAE as a tire technician for GT racing team TF Sport while they competed in the Asian Le Mans Series.

Tom said: “Unfortunately for us there’s no exemption. It feels like we have been persecuted for doing our job.

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Tom with his wife Joanne and their two children, William, nine, and five-year-old Ben.

"I’ve got a wife and two kids and what’s been a three-week work trip is now going to be five weeks, which is quite frustrating.”

Tom must stay in his bedroom until next Friday and is not allowed to mix with any other guests, including the 14 other TF Sport team members he worked closely with.

He will take two coronavirus tests before he is allowed to leave, including one to check for traces of new variants of the illness.

"You are in your hotel room for the whole day," he said.

Tom's hotel room overlooking a Heathrow Airport runway.

"I managed to stay out for one hour this morning and run around the car park but then security said I need to come inside.”

Guests can order three meals a day via room service, which are left outside their door. Takeaway deliveries are also allowed. Should anyone wish to leave the confines of their room to stretch their legs in the car park and get some fresh air, they must call reception to ask to be let out.

Tom said: "I’ve got quite a positive attitude on life but I’m an outdoors person. I do an outside job so sitting in a room with limited things to do, it’s not great.

"There’s worse places to be, I’m being fed and watered. We are here against our will but the other option is you lie and face a £10,000 fine and potentially 10 years in prison.

Tom had been working in Dubai and the UAE with the TF Sport GT racing team.

Fortunately for Tom, TF Sport paid the £1,750 hotel bill per person for their team. He considered staying in sunny Bahrain alongside some other team mates, but would have been forced to pay his own bill if the country was placed on the UK Government’s growing list of ‘red-list’ destinations.

So, how is he keeping himself occupied?

"I have done some paperwork and I have been watching films, the wife sent me down some books and I’ve been speaking to people on the phone quite a bit,” said Tom.

"I have got a book which is quite ironic, it’s called Strangeways: A Prison Officer's Story.”

The view from Tom's window. He was allowed to exercise in the car park for one hour.

Some of his teammates have been sent Lego sets by loved ones to keep them entertained, while Tom’s wife Joanne posted supplies of Yorkshire Tea, Pringles and chocolate as well as an electronic cable to connect his phone to the TV.

Tom, who is dad to nine-year-old William and five-year-old Ben, said: "I’m missing my family quite a lot now.

“It feels wrong because we have been working, we have been earning an honest crust. It’s been tough enough this last 12 months, as it has been for everyone.”

The coronavirus pandemic has been a ‘nightmare’ for his business, he admitted.

Tom said: “With the news now I hope we can start moving forward and people can start living their lives a bit like they used to.

"The biggest thing that’s suffered is business for a lot of people. It’s very frustrating trying to earn a living when you have to be chucked in jail every time you go abroad.”

Heathrow Airport was "very, very busy", Tom said.

The UK’s quarantine rules also proved a source of frustration for Tom, who was unable to fly direct from Dubai because all flights to the UK are currently banned.

He said: "You are on the plane from Bahrain to the UK with people like myself who are having to go into a hotel because we’ve been in a red-list country, plus a load of people who haven’t been to a red-list country."

Despite travelling almost six and a half hours with passengers coming from ‘banned’ destinations, some travellers from abroad were allowed to self-isolate at home.

The arrivals lounge at Heathrow Airport was also “very, very busy”, with no social distancing, Tom said.

"They [airport staff] look at you if you have been on holiday, which couldn’t be further from the truth,” he added.

"We knew we were going to have to come home and isolate but the rules changed while we were out there. It put a bit of a shadow on the whole couple of weeks.”

Heathrow previously claimed social distancing in an airport environment is "not possible". Face coverings have been mandatory there since May, a spokesperson said.

Asked if he regretted his decision to travel, Tom replied: “Yes and no. Yes because I haven’t got home and can’t see my family but from a financial point it’s how I earn a living.

"I haven’t done a lot since I worked the last race in November.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson told The Star: “Every step is taken to reduce risks and to minimise any potential for passenger interaction, including Covid-19 tests prior to departure and routine protocols like mandatory mask wearing, social distancing and regular cleaning of facilities.

“A number of airports including Britain’s busiest airport, Heathrow, have introduced additional measures to separate passengers from red list destinations ahead of the immigration hall to limit the possibility of mixing.”