LBC Views: £486m wasted on Covid travel rules that didn't even work!

26 July 2022, 11:10

The Covid inquiry can't come soon enough!
The Covid inquiry can't come soon enough! Picture: LBC

By Stephen Rigley

It can only be hoped that next year's public inquiry into the Covid pandemic will give closure to the families of the more than 150,000 victims of the disease.

And that it helps the country better prepare for any future pandemics because as inquiry head Baroness Heather Hallett rightly observed, Covid affected every single person in the UK.

The impact of coronavirus on health services, public services, education, children and young people, the care sector, the test and trace system, and PPE purchasing will all come under the microscope.

Undoubtedly some of the decisions were correct. We could only imagine the horror if the vaccine program had not been such a success.

But that doesn't mean that tough questions should not be asked about some of the scandals that we endured.

How many elderly people were sent to their death in woefully unprepared care homes?

And exactly how did Dido Harding's disastrous track-and-trace system run up a £37billion bill. What exactly did it achieve apart from sending a few pings to people's phones?

And now we see the truth emerge about the much-heralded travel "traffic light system" for international arrivals.

A whopping £486 million of taxpayer money was spent on the over-complicated, bureaucratic system which ministers have now finally admitted may not have even worked.

The traffic light system set the rules for arrivals from every country depending on whether it was on the red, amber or green list. Arrivals from red list countries had to stay in a quarantine hotel for at least 10 days.

The testing and quarantine requirements for people arriving in the UK were changed 10 times between February 2021 and January 2022, according to a report by the public accounts committee (PAC)

Now, the report says the government “does not know whether the system worked or whether the cost was worth the disruption caused”.

Airlines and holiday companies blamed ministers for the slow recovery of foreign travel due to the rules, with many European countries imposing fewer restrictions.

Dame Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the PAC, said: “The approach to border controls and quarantine caused huge confusion and disruption with 10 changes in a year. And now we can see that it is not clear what this achieved.

“We can be clear on one thing – the cost to the taxpayer in subsidising expensive quarantine hotels, and more millions of taxpayers’ money blown on measures with no apparent plan or reasoning and precious few checks or proof that it was working to protect public health.”

Outlining the importance of her work chairing the inquiry, Lady Hallett said: “It’s time for facts, not opinions – and I will be resolute in my quest for the truth."

One can only hope that she manages to untangle the mess of this flawed traffic light system and find out the thinking behind this ludicrous decision to spaff nearly £500million against the wall.

It is our money that was wasted and our travel industry that has still not properly recovered.

That is a lesson that needs to be learnt.