Labour demands government introduces pre-departure Covid tests for all travellers to UK

Current measures ‘wholly insufficient’ to prevent growing numbers of cases, Yvette Cooper and Wes Streeting say

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 30 November 2021 19:39
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Labour has demanded the government bolster Covid border measures by reintroducing pre-departure test requirements for anyone travelling to the UK in response to the new omicron variant.

In a joint letter, the newly appointed shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, and shadow health secretary, Wes Streeting, told the government it is an “urgent requirement” with more than 1 million travelling through UK airports each week.

It comes after the government dropped requirements for a pre-departure test for vaccinated travellers in the autumn, but in response to the new variant at the weekend re-introduced quarantine for all arrivals until they have received a negative PCR test.

The UK Health Security Agency announced on Tuesday eight further cases of the omicron variant have been confirmed in England – taking the total number of identified cases to 13, with a further nine cases in Scotland.

In their letter to Sajid Javid, the health secretary, and the home secretary Priti Patel, the Labour frontbenchers welcomed the new PCR requirement, but stressed it was “wholly insufficient to identify or prevent growing numbers of arriving cases of omicron spreading in the community”.

Warning that there are “major gaps” in surveillance measures at UK borders, they added: “We are urging the government to urgently learn the lessons from the previous waves of the pandemic to ensure the same mistakes are not made again.

“Currently it is possible for people to travel to the UK on crowded planes, stand in crowded departure halls, get on crowded tubes, buses and trains home to rejoin family or housemates without taking a test at any point along the way – not even a lateral flow test at the airport before they get on a plane.

“The government does still require unvaccinated passengers to take a Covid test before travelling to the UK.

“However, given that the chief medical officer warned last week that, due to mutations on the omicron variant’s spike gene, there is a reasonable chance of at least some level of vaccine escape, all incoming travellers should be required to take a pre-departure test regardless of their vaccine status.”

Earlier this year, as cases of the delta variant first detected in India began to spread in the UK, Ms Cooper in her role as chair of the home affairs committee was highly critical of the government’s delay in putting the country on the travel “red list”.

“We urge you to learn the lessons from those failures and to take a much more rigorous and vigilant approach this time,” the letter on Tuesday added.

The call from the Labour frontbenchers also comes after the Scottish and Welsh first ministers urged No 10 to bring in “tougher” travel rules by extending the quarantine period for those arriving in the UK to eight days – and to hold a Cobra meeting.

But Downing Street rejected the devolved administrations’ calls for the self-isolation period for travellers to be extended. Tightening the requirements would have a “detrimental effect” on the travel industry, a No 10 spokesperson said.

Mr Johnson’s official spokesperson also said there was no Cobra meeting involving all four nations of the UK currently planned. “We obviously speak to our devolved administration counterparts very regularly,” he said.

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