Labour MP Yvette Cooper has warned that the new requirement for international passengers travelling to the UK to show a negative test result for coronavirus before entering the UK “doesn’t go far enough”.
Commenting on the measure, meaning that those entering the country must get a test up to 72 hours before they travel, she described the decision by the government as a “step forward” but argued that there are “many gaps” in the UK’s approach.
The chair of the home affairs select committee told Times Radio listeners this morning: “We do need those tests in place before people travel. And it’s particularly important because there are real concerns about the new South Africa variant.”
Cooper highlighted concerns raised by scientists that this mutation might be “less susceptible” to vaccines and added: “We clearly need to do everything we can to prevent the South Africa variant spreading or taking hold in the UK.”
While welcoming the testing requirement for new arrivals announced this morning, she told listeners: “I think it doesn’t go far enough. And we still do have considerably weaker border covid arrangements than many other countries.
“Particularly countries like South Korea, Singapore, New Zealand, that have done much better than we have at managing the virus.”
She said: “Currently, the UK still has no testing on arrival and very patchy self-isolation arrangements for arriving travellers in contrast to the strong arrival testing and quarantine arrangements that other countries have.
“Given that arriving travellers could still have contracted the virus in the last 72 hours, or on their journey, the government needs to explain why they aren’t also introducing testing on arrival and clearer quarantine and enforcement measures to prevent new variants taking hold or threatening the vaccine programme.
“The UK’s Covid border measures were too weak last spring and as our homes affairs committee report made clear last year, the first wave of the pandemic was worse as a result.”
Labour earlier this week accused the government of leaving the UK “completely exposed” to new strains of coronavirus coming to the country from abroad through inadequate quarantine restrictions and checks for new arrivals.
Analysis of government figures carried out by the opposition party showed that just three in every 100 people travelling to the UK from another country are checked to make sure that they are complying with quarantine measures.
Commenting on the tests earlier today, Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said this morning: “This is a necessary step, as it’s vital to do everything possible to control the spread of the virus and any further strains.
“However, Labour has been calling for a comprehensive strategy on testing for international travel since April. Instead, the government has been lurching from one crisis to another.
“In that time they have lost control of the virus and risked leaving the nation’s doors unlocked against the possibility of different strains of the virus entering the country from across the world.”
Labour mayor of London Sadiq Khan urged the government on Monday to “get a grip” on international travel with greater testing and quarantining procedures for new arrivals to control the spread of coronavirus amid rapidly rising cases.
He outlined his frustration at the “ease” with which people can come to the country, potentially bringing new variants of the virus, and compared the UK measures to the experience travellers have faced in other countries in the pandemic.
The new measure announced by the government today means that passengers entering England, Wales or Scotland will need a test and, even with a negative result, arrivals from countries not on the travel corridor list will still need to quarantine.
The rules apply to England, Wales and Scotland and the Department for Transport has said it is currently working with the devolved administration in Northern Ireland to roll out similar requirements.
Welsh Labour First Minister Mark Drakeford welcomed the announcement from the UK government and said he expects “exactly the same rules to apply” when people begin travelling to Wales again. Cardiff airport is currently closed.