Women quarantining in UK hotels will have female guards wherever possible, the government has said, after several claims of sexual harassment by members of security staff.
The announcement comes after Labour demanded ministers take action over four women’s claims, reported by the BBC, that they were harassed by guards working for the outsourcing firm G4S during their stays in Covid quarantine.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) announced the changes to the system on Thursday. However, G4S has made clear it does not have enough female security guards to carry out the job, meaning two male guards would need to work together in a chaperoning system in some cases where women are staying alone.
This has prompted criticism from one woman who complained of harassment while quarantining. Sarah, 23, a medical student from Manchester, told BBC News: “Personally I would find two male guards more intimidating than just one lone guard. A group of male guards were talking about me when they clearly saw one male guard was being inappropriate with me. I don’t think it ensures the safety of women, rather it increases possible risk.”
Concern was expressed after the reports surfaced in late June. According to BBC News, the four women said guards mimed having sex while they were alone in a lift, and asked for hugs and selfies.
They also said security guards had asked them whether they were married and travelling alone, and followed them closely while they exercised, and one guard had stationed himself outside a bedroom, despite another guard being on duty there.
At the time the shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, said: “These are extremely concerning allegations. No one should face intimidation or sexual harassment – the government must urgently look into this issue with G4S and establish what has happened to make sure it never happens again.
“Managed quarantine is one of the tools to help secure our borders, but travellers must be safe and not in fear of those who are supposed to be looking after them. We expect all parties to properly assist in any investigations.”
The DHSC has now said guards would be trained on how to treat vulnerable guests “with more focused attention on the needs of lone female guests”.
G4S said: “It is imperative that women who are required to quarantine in UK hotels feel safe and secure at all times. To provide additional assurance, we have enhanced training, supervision and operational and safeguarding procedures. We have also established an oversight body comprising of women in senior executive roles. G4S expects its employees to treat all people with respect and has a zero-tolerance approach to any behaviour which fails to meet this standard.”
A government spokesperson said: “Sexual harassment and abuse are abhorrent and all allegations of this are taken extremely seriously. We are doing our utmost to ensure every person in managed quarantine gets the support they need and we are urgently working to investigate complaints of this nature.”