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THE government finally caught up with at least some of the science today as it announced that anyone entering the country would now have to produce a negative Covid-19 test.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that from next week passengers travelling to England from abroad — including British nationals — will have to have been tested within 72 hours of their departure.
Similar measures were announced by the Scottish government, with Wales is expected to follow suit.
The belated move was widely welcomed, but transport trade unions, opposition leaders and members of the scientific community lamented that it had come far too late and still had too many gaps.
Transport and travel union TSSA blasted the nearly year-long delay in introducing “this blindingly obvious measure” — and the resulting cost in lives — as “absolutely disgraceful.”
General secretary Manuel Cortes said: “We should have closed our borders in March and only reopened them to those who had tested negative for Covid within 72 hours of arriving in Britain.
“By not implementing testing earlier this inept government has allowed thousands of infected people to enter the country unchecked, further spreading this deadly virus.
“The travel industry has been calling for mandatory testing for months to give passengers confidence, but the whole economy has now suffered through the lack of effective action on testing and sadly thousands of lives have been lost as a result.”
Labour MP and home affairs committee chairwoman Yvette Cooper said there were still “many gaps” in Britain’s approach.
“Currently Britain 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,” she said.
Labour shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “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.”
Mark Jit, professor of vaccine epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, pointed out that modelling suggested that stopping people entering a country would make a difference only if it had very few new Covid-19 cases, or was about to “tip over” into exponential growth.
“Now testing people and only allowing those who are negative to enter would have a similar impact, but possibly slightly smaller because there will be a few people who test negative even when they are positive,” he said.
“These restrictions may also make a difference if you are trying to keep a new strain of coronavirus out of your country, and hardly anyone in your country has that strain yet.”
Mr Shapps said the move had been made to help protect against new strains of coronavirus such as those seen in Denmark and South Africa.
Prior to departure passengers will need to present proof of a negative Covid-19 test result to carriers, as well as a passenger locator form. The UK Border Force will conduct spot checks on arrival.
Passengers failing to comply will be subject to an immediate fine of £500, and all passengers arriving from countries not on the government’s travel-corridor list will still be required to self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of the test result.
There will be a limited number of exemptions, including hauliers, children under 11, crews, arrivals from Ireland and for those travelling from countries without the infrastructure available to deliver tests.
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