Nothing to declare? MPs row over airport Covid tests

6 September 2020, 07:33

A row is brewing between MPs over airport coronavirus testing
A row is brewing between MPs over airport coronavirus testing. Picture: PA

By Kate Buck

A row is brewing between MPs over the use of a testing regime in airports, just days after thousands of jobs were cut from the airline industry.

The travel industry has been left decimated by Covid-19, after a worldwide shut down, leading to thousands of redundancies as airline companies try and scrape back cash in an effort to stay alive.

But despite growing calls for more extensive testing rolled out at airports to reduce travellers' self-isolation periods, Boris Johnson has said it would create a "false sense of security".

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told LBC's Nick Ferrari on Friday that although airport testing "sounds totally logical", the tests would only detect around 7 per cent of positive cases coming into the country.

There are a growing number of MPs within the Prime Minister's own ranks who are now backing the call for passengers to be tested upon arrival.

Boris Johnson has said airport testing would create a "false sense of security".
Boris Johnson has said airport testing would create a "false sense of security". Picture: PA

Tory MP Henry Smith, whose constituency encapsulates Gatwick, is among those in Mr Johnson's government calling for a change in the current regulations.

He said: "We are supposed to be looking to be global Britain and yet we are at a competitive disadvantage to those countries like Germany, like France, that are testing passengers.

"I would urge the Government to reconsider. That is a very important part of public health confidence, confidence in flying and competitiveness of the UK economy."

Read more: People returning from Portugal to Scotland and Wales face 14-day quarantine

Read more: Bolton facing tougher coronavirus measures as infection rate rises

Also among those in revolt are former Brexit Secretary David Davis, who said results should be given to travellers within two hours, former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Patrick McLoughlin and Iain Duncan Smith

On Friday, Virgin Atlantic became the latest airline to announce job cuts, with 1,150 positions being slashed as part of a £1.2 billion rescue scheme.

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.

In a letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel, the Labour party is now also calling for airport testing.

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.

Read more: France rules out second lockdown after recording 9,000 cases in one day

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.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told LBC&squot;s Nick Ferrari on Friday that although airport testing "sounds totally logical", the tests would only detect around 7 per cent of positive cases
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told LBC's Nick Ferrari on Friday that although airport testing "sounds totally logical", the tests would only detect around 7 per cent of positive cases. Picture: PA

"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.

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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.

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."

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