Covid Scotland: University students unable to travel amid red list hotel quarantine chaos

Students from red list countries due to start the term at Scottish universities have had to cancel flights amid ‘significant issues’ with the company tasked by the government with booking hotel quarantine.

Complaints have emerged that Corporate Travel Management (CTM), the company hired by the government to book hotel quarantine for those coming from overseas from countries deemed to have high levels of Covid, have not sent booking emails and are unavailable on the phone, leaving students unable to board flights without confirmation of their £2,285 hotel quarantine accommodation.

Anyone coming from a country on the red list needs to quarantine in a hotel for ten days after arriving in Scotland.

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Students from countries on Scotland’s red list – which includes much of Africa and South America, as well as Turkey, Pakistan and Thailand – have complained of being on hold to CTM for hours from their home country without being able to speak to a call handler to confirm their bookings.

Students at Edinburgh University undergoing lateral flow tests.

Scottish universities have stepped in to help some students and say they have also been unable to contact CTM, warning of “significant issues” in the national system.

Some Edinburgh University students from Africa were due to arrive on Friday, to complete their quarantine in time for the start of the new term, but were unable to travel due to being unable to receive confirmation of their bookings from CTM.

Other students from Turkey whose flights were cancelled by their airline and needed to change their travel dates were unable to get through to CTM’s helpline, leaving them booked in to accommodation they cannot use.

One student, Faithy Ngaira, from Kenya, who will be studying for an MSc in Africa and International Development at the University of Edinburgh through the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program, said she had been unable to confirm bookings made for her by the university, despite repeated attempts to contact CMT.

Faithy Ngaira, from Kenya will be studying for an MSc in Africa and International Development at the University of Edinburgh through the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program.

She said: “I got an email from the university stating that I have been booked for managed hotel quarantine. However, I have not received any communication from CMT confirming that I have a hotel booking. I have not received any invoices or receipts either.

“We are required to take a Covid test to travel, which I had done already and incurred the costs.

"Now I will have to redo the test once the flight is rebooked. As a student travelling to study abroad for the first time, my whole family and friends had prepared and some had already travelled to the city to see me off.”

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Ms Ngaira said having to rebook her travel meant she may miss out on some Welcome Week activities to meet fellow students – while she will also have to pay extra rent in her hometown to be able to wait until her new flight.

She said: “We were to quarantine for ten days, and then attend the Welcome Week from September 13.

"Personally, I was so excited to do some in-person induction, if allowed, ahead of my classes that begin on September 20. I am quite inconvenienced, especially with my living arrangements because I will have to pay rent [at home] for an unknown number of days.”

A University of Edinburgh spokesman said: “The university is currently assisting a number of students from red list countries with regards their travel and quarantine arrangements as there have been significant issues with the national system put in place.

"This is a challenging time for these students, but as an institution we are supporting them with quarantine costs if they meet the relevant criteria and we hope the issues identified will be rectified as quickly as possible.

"We look forward to welcoming all our students to Edinburgh for the new academic year.”

A spokesman for the University of Aberdeen said the institution had been contacted by two students travelling from red list countries who had struggled to get confirmation of their hotel quarantine booking and had offered assistance – but had heard of more cases at other universities in Scotland.

CTM, which is the world’s fourth largest global travel management company and returned to profit in the year to the end of June, was tasked by the Westminster Government to manage hotel quarantine and travel Covid testing across the UK.

Anyone who needs to book a room in managed hotel quarantine has to do so through the CTM portal. The package includes food and beverages, transfers, security and two Covid tests, taken on day two and day eight of quarantine.

The company has previously come under fire over issues surrounding travel PCR tests, with customers complaining that they have failed to send them the correct reference numbers needed for international trips and highlighting problems in reaching CTM by phone.

Jamie Hepburn, Scottish Government minister for higher and further education, said: “The Scottish Government has engaged extensively with universities on the quarantine of international students from red-list countries and have been clear of the need to book a managed isolation package before travelling to Scotland.

“The Managed Isolation Service in Scotland is operated under a UK Government (UKG) contract, which places the responsibility for setting the quality and levels of service on the UKG.”

He added: “The Scottish Government’s International Travel Co-ordination Team is in regular contact with Corporate Travel Management (CTM), the UKG’s travel agent, and we continue to work with them to ensure a high quality service for travellers.”

CTM has not responded to a request for comment.

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