Rather, it is a desperate sight for all those familiar with the usual hum at Manchester Airport.
It’s Friday morning and under normal circumstances there would be a crowd of people fighting over the best place against the railing near these doors, awaiting the arrival of a newly tanned loved one possibly returning from vacation.
Spar, Boots and WH Smith are open but there are hardly any customers: the strange builder wearing a helmet and a few others who obviously work at the airport. The Travelex exchange office is empty. The doors of Joe’s Kitchen and Coffee, Greggs and Pret are closed and locked.
Like so many others, I have come here many times, either as a return traveler, or as a parent wanting to see a familiar face again. I have been a reporter at M.E.N Airport for three happy years. I’ve never seen him so helpless, even in the middle of the night.
Today I am here in a professional capacity, doing what journalists call a “date”: I ask people if they have been tested for coronavirus at any time during their trip here.
As the number of Covid-19 deaths in the UK rises to around 20,000 (and this is only in hospitals), it remains to be seen why there has been no screening for the virus for people entering the country, either at the start of the epidemic, or now.
The government says such tests are simply not reliable – but they are used in parts of Africa and the Middle East where there have been far fewer deaths.
This is an uncomfortable fact for government policy makers who are under increasing pressure from certain airports to introduce mass screening, antibody tests and even so-called “health passports” late.
An almost empty KLM flight from Amsterdam has just landed, one of nine arriving at T1. The other two terminals were closed due to the lockout.
It is an airport with two runways more used to handling 29 million passengers a year. Instead of an average of 80,000 passengers passing through the airport each day, the airport sees only a few hundred.
I am told that no more than two people were seated in a single row of seats on the flight that has just landed from Schiphol. Some people wore masks on board. Others do not.
Perhaps a few dozen people pass through these familiar sliding doors.
The first person I speak to is Royce Leonard, 54, an engineer in the offshore petroleum industry, from Hull, who has returned from work in Holland.
He confirms that it was not screened at Schiphol or, of course, once it landed in Manchester. In fact, he travels the world as part of his work and is rarely screened anywhere, he tells me.
“They’re crackers,” he said, adding, “Three weeks ago, I went from Darwin in Australia to Qatar and Heathrow and Manchester and there was no screening anywhere. It’s incredible. It’s been like this from the start. “
He distinguishes Singapore (which recorded only 12 deaths) for its praise: there, passengers must pass in front of thermal cameras.
“If you flash, they pull you to one side. Otherwise, they let you travel. In the UK, if you’re on an international flight, you’re walking straight, “said Royce.
Does he buy the argument of the British government that screening does not work because it is not reliable? People who don’t have a temperature can still get the virus.
” Not really, no. If it shows a temperature, then you have a temperature and it’s better than nothing, “he said.
The next passenger I’m talking about is a woman who flew from Uganda, via Schiphol. She doesn’t want to be named. She also wears a mask.
Uganda has reported fewer than 100 cases of coronavirus and no deaths.
“They check your temperature and if you have a temperature, they will not allow you to travel,” she said, noting that there is also a 14-day mandatory quarantine for anyone entering the country.
She admits that she is very concerned about the death toll in the UK.
” It’s scary. It really doesn’t go down, ”she said.
When asked if there should be screening at UK airports, she replied, “Yes, it should be more stringent. Absolutely. More strict. At least a few checks. You can’t check everything, but I think so, the temperature.
“I am not an expert but the Ugandan government model seems to be working. Nationals of other countries who have refused quarantine have been removed because it is a real risk. If we want to keep people safe, we have to consider that. “”
Then I speak to a cargo pilot, wearing his uniform and waiting for his exit in front of the T1 building. He doesn’t want to be named.
During his travels, he said he had only seen screenings in Africa, certainly not in the United Kingdom or the rest of Europe.
Screening was not the answer, but “could be a help” if only to alert people who were not aware of it, he admitted. He was not wearing a mask and seemed quite relaxed about the crisis.
When asked what he thought of the lack of control at European airports, he replied, “If there is no control, no one knows. “
I thank him for his time and walk away, placing myself on a seat to check my notes.
The pilot came over and said, “You can add the Middle East to your list. “
In addition to temperature checks, at airports in the Middle East, they also perform a nasal test. “It is very strict there,” he said.
I noticed that he seemed phlegmatic about the lack of screening before. “It is for our safety. I think it’s stupid that people don’t realize it, “he said, before continuing on his way.
Manchester airport officials are reluctant to be drawn into controversy, unlike Heathrow airport boss who reportedly wrote to health secretary Matt Hancock to demand routine temperature checks, antibody tests and the obligation for all passengers to carry a “health passport” to show that they are in good health.
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye wants Public Health England to release data to prove his claim that temperature control doesn’t work.
Manchester Airport Group chief executive officer (which includes Manchester and other airports) Charlie Cornish keeps his head down while his counterpart at Heathrow appears to be ruffling government feathers.
Instead, Mr. Cornish and his staff defer to the government, saying that they only follow the advice that has been given.
An airport spokesperson would just say, “Our number one priority is the safety and security of all of our customers and colleagues. We currently operate the airport in accordance with Public Health England guidelines. We are constantly monitoring the situation and, if this direction changes, we will react accordingly. “
We asked Public Health England for a statement and they replied, “Manchester Airport, like all other airports in the UK, follows the advice and protocols established by the British government. All UK airports, including Manchester, have brochures and information for travelers on signs and symptoms and what to do if you feel unwell.
“Most people who develop symptoms will get them after leaving the airport. So our priority is to provide UK residents and travelers with the latest information to make sure they know what to do if they have symptoms, and the NHS and PHE have an established plan for: responding to someone who is not not feeling well.
“Clinical screening at entry (for example by temperature controls) would be of very limited effectiveness and would detect only a small minority of cases as symptoms. Symptoms generally only appear within 5 to 7 days, and sometimes up to 14 days. “
So while the few passengers who still fly in and out of Manchester Airport may not like it, coronavirus testing won’t happen any time soon if the government sticks to its position.