Drakeford and Sturgeon call for tougher travel rules in response to Omicron

Elliot Chappell

Mark Drakeford and Nicola Sturgeon have jointly called for tougher travel rules and urged Boris Johnson to convene a COBRA meeting “as soon as possible” to coordinate a four-nation response to the spread of a new Covid variant.

In a letter to the Prime Minister this morning, the First Ministers of Wales and Scotland argued that the ‘Omicron’ variant makes it necessary to reinstate a requirement for a ‘day-eight’ PCR test, alongside isolation, for arrivals to the UK.

“While our public health systems work hard to minimise the spread of cases already in the UK, it is imperative that we do all we can to avoid under-cutting these efforts by permitting on-going importation,” they wrote.

The warning from the heads of the devolved UK administrations followed reports that six cases of the Omicron variant, first identified in South Africa but since found in countries across the world, have been identified in Scotland.

These six cases, identified today, followed confirmation that three cases of the new strain were found in England on Sunday. The government has added ten countries to its red list and is introducing legislation on mask wearing.

Downing Street announced over the weekend the reintroduction of a requirement for a PCR test on the second day after travellers arrive in the UK, but Drakeford and Sturgeon insisted in their letter that a day-eight requirement is also needed, as well as stressing the importance of a joint response on travel measures.

“We need to work collectively – and effectively – as four nations to take all reasonable steps to control the ingress of the virus to the country and then to limit its spread. We are clear that a four-nations approach to issues such as border restrictions is the most effective approach. This requires that a meeting of the COBRA committee be held as soon as possible,” the pair wrote.

Sturgeon and Drakeford also sought reassurance from the Prime Minister that the Treasury will support devolved financial business support schemes that might be needed “in the event more interventionist measures are required”.

Below is the full text of the letter sent to the Prime Minister today.

Dear Prime Minister,

The emergence of Omicron poses a potential threat to the UK. It is clear that the strain is already here and that it appears highly transmissible. We need to work collectively – and effectively – as four nations to take all reasonable steps to control the ingress of the virus to the country and then to limit its spread.

We are clear that a four-nations approach to issues such as border restrictions is the most effective approach. This requires that a meeting of the COBRA Committee be held as soon as possible.

We would wish to use that opportunity to see the latest evidence from UK government health professionals on the variant and to understand the international picture along with the implications that it might have for the UK.

In particular, we believe the reinstatement of a requirement for a ‘day-eight’ PCR test for travellers arriving into the UK – alongside the ‘day-two’ requirement already announced, and thereby requiring isolation for that whole period – is now necessary. Public health advice is unequivocal that this is the best and safest way to protect against the importation of this variant to the fullest extent possible.

While our public health systems work hard to minimise the spread of cases already in the UK, it is imperative that we do all we can to avoid under-cutting these efforts by permitting on-going importation.

We also wish to confirm that devolved financial business support schemes will be funded by the Treasury in the event more interventionist measures are required to respond to the public health situation. In our view, it would be better to consider this now, in advance of a potential escalation in the seriousness of the situation, to support effective planning. In particular, it is important for us to agree that if the conditions in a devolved nation were to require more significant interventions than in England, the agreed package of financial support would be available to that nation. We do not want to be in a position again where our public health interventions are negatively impacted by a lack of financial support, but can be switched on as required for England.

Given the public interest in our working together to achieve the strongest possible response to this threat, this letter is being made public.

Yours sincerely,

Nicola Sturgeon
Mark Drakeford

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