Labour calls for more airport testing to minimise ‘chaotic’ quarantine measures
Industry-damaging quarantines should be reviewed and more extensive testing rolled out at airports to reduce travellers’ self-isolation periods, Labour has said.
In a letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel, the opposition party said the “dire warnings” from the travel sector about the use of “chaotic” blanket self-isolation advice meant it was time to review the methods being used to prevent the spread of Covid-19 from those returning to the UK from abroad.
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said a “robust testing regime in airports” could minimise the need for those returning from countries with high coronavirus prevalence to quarantine for two weeks.
He also said “serious concerns” about the low-level of monitoring of incoming travellers, claiming “less than a third of passenger locator forms are checked”, were another reason why a review was required.
The UK Government has been making weekly decisions in response to rising coronavirus rates in Europe and beyond, opting to reimpose travel restrictions where the risk of infection is escalating.
Holidaymakers in France, Spain and the Netherlands have all been caught out by the changes in recent weeks as ministers have introduced, in some cases with only a few hours’ notice, regulations forcing those returning to self-isolate for 14 days.
But Mr Thomas-Symonds said the quarantine was having a “dire” impact on the travel industry.
He has called on ministers to carry out a “rapid review” of the current protocols and consider introducing more testing at airports.
In his letter to Ms Patel, Mr Thomas-Symonds wrote: “I write to call for a rapid review to fix chaotic quarantine arrangements that are losing public confidence and undermining our ability to keep people safe and save jobs.
“In order to rebuild this trust I am calling on Government to undertake a review into quarantine policy, to report within a fortnight.
“It should include outlining options for a robust testing regime in airports, and related follow up tests, that could help to safely minimise the need for 14 day quarantine.
“It is clear that ramped up testing is an important part of trying to respond to the pandemic and safely reopen society.
“Given the huge challenges being faced by the travel sector and the scale of job losses, it makes sense to look at this area as part of a wider package of improvements to the testing regime.”
There has been confusion across the UK in recent days after Scotland and Wales reintroduced quarantine measures for those returning from Portugal but England and Northern Ireland did not.
Scotland also applied self-isolation rules to Greece and Wales did the same for six Greek islands, including Zante and Crete, while Westminster and Stormont have so far resisted tightening the travel guidance for the Mediterranean country.
Airlines have also criticised the use of quarantine measures as they face large job cuts due to Covid-inspired lockdowns around the globe reducing travellers numbers.
Virgin Atlantic announced on Friday it plans to axe another 1,150 jobs after completing a £1.2 billion rescue deal.
The further job losses come less than four months after the carrier ditched 3,150 roles and ended its operations at Gatwick Airport due to the collapse in demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
A Government spokeswoman said: “We are taking clear and decisive action to slow the spread of the virus and save lives.
“We keep the data for all countries and territories under constant review, and if the public health risk of people returning from a particular country without self-isolating becomes too high we will not hesitate to remove countries from the travel corridors exemptions list.
“Work is ongoing with clinicians, the devolved administrations and the travel industry to consider if and how testing could be used in the future to reduce the self-isolation period.
“Any potential change to the testing for arrivals would need to be robust in minimising the chance that positive cases are missed.”