Boris Johnson was today accused of leaving a ‘substantial gap in the nation’s defences’ against coronavirus by delaying rules on people needing a negative test before entering the UK.
The PM confirmed last night that the move is coming, days after claims started to circulate that it was planned to prevent the alarming South African variant creeping into the country.
But it is understood it could still be a ‘couple of days’ before the system – likely to mean people must test negative within 72 hours of travelling – is ready to be unveiled, with the implementation date unclear.
Government sources told MailOnline they are still ‘firming up’ the details of the policy.
Mr Johnson came under fire in the Commons today over when the requirement will be brought in, and how much notice people will get.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said there were ‘real concerns’ about importing mutant strains from places like South Africa and Denmark. ‘Why are those measures not introduced already? They have been briefed to the media for days but nothing has happened,’ he said.
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds urged the government to stop ‘dragging its heels’ and ‘get a grip’.
‘We are leaving a substantial gap in the nation’s defences against this terrible virus,’ he said. ‘They must act now without further unacceptable delay.’
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford urged Mr Johnson to close the UK’s borders to all-but essential travel.
He told the Commons: ‘Nobody would say that this Prime Minister is one step ahead of tomorrow or acts and shows leadership in dealing with this health pandemic.
‘The PM was slow to act in the spring of 2020, slow in the autumn and here again, reacts after the events to the threats that we all face.’
However, Mr Johnson gave no details and only offered a bland statement, saying: ‘I think it is vital we protect our borders and protect this country from the readmission of the virus from overseas and that is why we took tough action in respect of South Africa when the new variant became apparent there and we will continue to take whatever action is necessary to protect this country from the readmission of the virus.’
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer took aim at the PM (both pictured above) in the Commons today as politicians returned to vote on the new lockdown rules.
Labour analysis suggested three in every 100 UK arrivals are checked to ensure they are complying with quarantine measures
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds has written to Priti Patel to demand urgent improvement to the travel quarantine programme
Zahawi says Covid tests at airports ‘pointless’ in clashes with Piers Morgan on ITV
Nadhim Zahawi engaged in brutal clashes with Piers Morgan today over the government’s Covid border controls.
The vaccines minister was slammed on ITV’s Good Morning Britain as he insisted it would be ‘pointless’ to test people at UK airports.
In a vicious rebuke, Morgan said: ‘We have, for inexplicable reasons, to anyone with a brain… throughout this pandemic resolutely refused to test people when they arrive at our border, nor have we required anybody to have a test to be negative when they get here.
‘Do you know how many people we have tested at our border?’
Mr Zahawi said: ‘The answer is you don’t take a test on the border because it’s pointless.’
Morgan added: ‘So the answer is zero… we don’t test people, any of our borders when they come in.
‘Secondly, we have never required anybody to have a test, and to test negative before they get on a plane to our country, unlike almost every other country in the world.’
Mr Zahawi said: ‘If you ask the scientists – Chris Whitty and Jonathan Van-Tam – that test at the border is near pointless because that person may be showing no symptoms, may test negative and two days later be positive.’
Mr Johnson said last night that the Government will be bringing in measures to ensure people arriving in the UK have been tested.
But the imposition of a third national lockdown has prompted growing calls for immediate action and questions over why a requirement for a negative test before arrival in the UK has not already been introduced.
A spokesman for the PM said this afternoon: ‘We are working at pace to develop appropriate measures.’
The spokesman said measures had already been introduced to try and stop cases being imported – such as the quarantine requirement.
But ‘the global and domestic situation that we are seeing has changed, with increasing levels of coronavirus, so it is important that we take the action we need to ensure that we try and reduce the risk even further,’ they added.
The principle of pre-departure testing ‘will provide for an extra layer of protection against the virus’, the spokesman said.
It came as new figures from Labour showed that just three in every 100 people arriving in the UK are being checked to see if they are complying with quarantine requirements.
Mr Thomas-Symonds has written to Priti Patel to demand ‘an urgent review and improvement plan of quarantine arrangements’.
Sir Keir took aim at the PM in the Commons today as politicians returned to vote on the new lockdown rules.
‘The Prime Minister knows there is real concern about the rapid transmission of this disease. There are new strains being detected in South Africa, Denmark and elsewhere. The quarantine system isn’t working,’ Sir Keir said.
‘The Prime Minister said yesterday that we will be bringing in extra measures at the border. I have to ask, why are those measures not introduced already? They have been briefed to the media for days but nothing has happened.’
Mr Thomas-Symonds said Labour analysis of Government data suggested just three per cent of arrivals expected to quarantine in England and Northern Ireland were successfully contacted by compliance checkers in the summer.
He said the Government’s Isolation Assurance Service, tasked with ensuring quarantine compliance, did not contact more than 1.9 million of the two million passengers spot checked by Border Force between June and September.
In a letter to the Home Secretary, Mr Thomas-Symonds said the numbers were ‘deeply concerning’ and demonstrate that ‘efforts to track, trace and isolate cases coming into the UK have been completely undermined’.
He said: ‘The lack of a robust quarantine system as a result of shortcomings from the Government mean that it is virtually impossible to keep a grip on this spread or other variants that may come from overseas, leaving the UK defenceless, and completely exposed, with the nation’s doors unlocked to further COVID mutations.
The Labour frontbencher said there must be ‘an urgent review and improvement plan of quarantine arrangements’ rolled out as soon as possible.
The calls for action come amid growing concerns over a variant of the disease discovered in South Africa.
The Home Office defended its ‘stringent measures’, and pointed to its move to stop direct flights from South Africa to the UK.
A Government spokesman said: ‘The figures in this letter are inaccurate. Border Force have conducted more than three million spot checks and PHE (Public Health England) have been contacting a further 1,500 people each day.
‘We are determined to reduce the spread of coronavirus. Our stringent measures, such as compulsory Passenger Locator Forms and spot checks both at the border and during quarantine periods, have seen a high level of compliance.’
Mr Johnson told a Downing Street press conference last night that the Government will be ‘bringing in measures to ensure that we test people coming into this country and prevent the virus from being readmitted’.
Ministers are understood to be considering introducing a requirement for international arrivals to have a negative coronavirus test before travelling to Britain in order to tackle surging cases. Hauliers would be exempt.
Nadhim Zahawi engaged in brutal clashes with Piers Morgan today over the government’s Covid border controls
Currently arrivals into England from nations that are not exempted under the travel corridor programme must isolate for 10 days.
But under the test and release scheme introduced in December, this can be shortened if they have a private test five days after their departure and it comes back negative.
During the first lockdown, the Government argued against introducing border restrictions while the prevalence was so high in the UK, with experts arguing it would do little to bring down infection rates.
However, a quarantine period was introduced in June after the first peak and when cases were more under control.