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Covid Confusion: Business Secretary caught in government mix-up

4 December 2020, 13:17

By Asher McShane

The Business Secretary was caught up in an extraordinary government mix-up on LBC this morning over new rules around quarantine for business travellers.

Overnight, the Department for Transport announced that quarantine rules are to be eased for "high value" business travellers in England.

They defined "high value" as being involved in a deal which creates or preserves 50 or more UK jobs or leads to a £100,000 investment or order.

However, when the Business Secretary Alok Sharma appeared on LBC with Nick Ferrari this morning, he said that the exemption required an investment or order of £100m.

The Department for Transport have now admitted that they got the figure wrong. Which spares Mr Sharma's blushes, but means that the Government announced their latest quarantine policy to the nation's media with a thousand-fold mathematical error.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced the new rules on Twitter yesterday writing: "New Business Traveller exemption: From 4am on Sat 5th Dec high-value business travellers will no longer need to self-isolate when returning to ENGLAND from a country NOT in a travel corridor, allowing more travel to support the economy and jobs. Conditions apply."

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On LBC this morning, Alok Sharma stated that the deals must result in an investment of £100,000,000.

Mr Sharma told Nick: “This is about the value of the business, rather than about the individual, as I said investment of £100m pounds or more.

Nick replied: “£100,000 isn’t it?” to which Mr Sharma responded, “No, no £100 million.”

Later Nick said: “I have to put it to you, I think you are misinformed, we are hearing it’s £100,000 and you’re saying it’s £100m? There’s quite a difference, which is it secretary of state - you’re saying £100m?”

“Yes” replied Mr Sharma.

After a pause Mr Sharma said: “As I said, 50 or more jobs and bringing in… investment.”

Alok Sharma was interviewed by Nick Ferrari on LBC this morning
Alok Sharma was interviewed by Nick Ferrari on LBC this morning. Picture: LBC

Individuals will only be exempt when undertaking specific business activity and will only be permitted to meet with others as required by that, the Department for Transport (DfT) said in a statement.

Further information is due to be issued once the new rules come into force at 4am on Saturday.

The DfT said sectors such as media and elite sport were also selected for exemption from quarantine as they "require specific, high-talent individuals who rely on international connections".

It added: "PHE (Public Health England) do not anticipate these changes will raise the risk of domestic transmission, due to the protocols being put in place around these exemptions, however all exemptions will remain under review."

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Currently, nearly all people arriving in the UK from destinations not believed to be at low risk of coronavirus are required to self-isolate for 14 days.

Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: "This is a welcome first step in dismantling the quarantine system and showing that Britain is open for business again.

"There will be some big businesses that are able to take advantage of it."

No changing are being made this week to the travel corridors list, which states where anyone can return to the UK from without needing to enter quarantine.

The list features destinations deemed to have low levels of coronavirus.