Labour MP claims Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told him the foreign travel testing rules are ‘pointless’ after the Government opted to empty the red list but keep Covid checks in place despite domestic spread of Omicron
- Labour MP Ben Bradshaw said Grant Shapps said travel testing rules ‘pointless’
- Government announced yesterday it was removing all countries from red list
- But it opted to keep tougher coronavirus travel testing requirements in place
A Labour MP today claimed that Grant Shapps described the Government’s international travel testing rules as ‘pointless’.
Ben Bradshaw said Mr Shapps made the comment last night when they were taking part in a vote in the House of Commons.
The claim came after the Government yesterday announced it was removing all remaining countries from the red list but it is keeping in place tougher Covid testing rules for returning travellers.
The Government reintroduced the red list last month and imposed more stringent border testing requirements in response to the emergence of the Omicron variant.
Ministers removed the remaining 11 countries from the banned list at 4am this morning and shelved the hotel quarantine system for a second time after they admitted Omicron was now running rampant across the UK.
The decision to ditch the red list has been welcomed by the aviation industry but there is anger over keeping the testing rules.
Mr Bradshaw warned this morning that the testing requirements are ‘devastating the Christmas travel industry’ as he grilled Dr Jenny Harries, the chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, during her appearance in front of the Transport Select Committee.
Dr Harries defended the decision to keep the testing rules in place as she said ‘where we know that there are cases coming into the country it seems prudent to try and prevent them from transmitting onwards where we can’.
Ben Bradshaw, a Labour MP, today claimed that Grant Shapps described the Government’s international travel testing rules as ‘pointless’
Mr Bradshaw said Mr Shapps made the comment last night when they were taking part in a vote in the House of Commons
Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced the changes to the red list yesterday afternoon.
He said the domestic spread of the variant meant the list was now ‘less effective in slowing the incursion of Omicron from abroad’.
But he said the Government ‘will maintain our temporary testing measures for international travel’.
Those measures include requiring fully-vaccinated travellers entering the UK to take a pre-departure test, and to self-isolate until they receive a negative result from a post-arrival PCR test.
Dr Harries told the committee that the red list has been emptied because the global spread of Omicron means it is no longer appropriate to focus rules on specific countries.
Mr Bradshaw said: ‘So why in that case has the testing regime not reverted to how it was before Omicron?
‘Because the testing regime was changed significantly, wasn’t it, in response to Omicron and yet it has remained the same and according to the Government it is going to remain the same right up until January which as this committee is well aware is devastating the Christmas travel industry.’
Dr Harries replied: ‘So Omicron hasn’t gone away, it has gone more widely, so in fact what has happened is the focus on South Africa and the South African region which appears to be epidemiologically the epicentre initially of Omicron we now know that there are cases globally so focusing on those countries is relatively an inappropriate mechanism.
‘But actually trying to prevent ingress of any infections including Omicron still remains a key point particularly when we can foresee a very large wave of Omicron coming through and our health services potentially being in serious peril.’
Mr Bradshaw said the current testing regime for travel is ‘far more strict than the testing regime domestically for people wandering around or moving around the United Kingdom’.
He asked what the public health benefit is of maintaining the rules ‘now that we have Omicron spreading at such a rapid rate here’.
Dr Harries said ‘we have to be careful about trying to manage the total number of infections’ and ‘we try not to add infections where we don’t need to’.
She added: ‘Where we know that there are cases coming into the country it seems prudent to try and prevent them from transmitting onwards where we can.’
The claim came after the Government yesterday announced it was removing all remaining countries from the red list but it is keeping in place tougher Covid testing rules for returning travellers
Dr Jenny Harries defended the decision to keep the testing rules in place as she said ‘where we know that there are cases coming into the country it seems prudent to try and prevent them from transmitting onwards where we can’
Mr Bradshaw then claimed that Mr Shapps had labelled the testing rules ‘pointless’.
He told Dr Harries: ‘So the decision to retain these testing rules over Christmas, into the New Year, that would have been taken on your collective advice as well or would ministers have made that decision?
‘Because the health minister said to me in the House yesterday that he thought they were pointless and the Transport Secretary told me in the division lobby last night he thought they were pointless too.
‘Someone is obviously keeping them in place. Who is keeping them in place?’
Dr Harries said she could not ‘speak on behalf of either of the ministers that you have just mentioned’.
‘But we will continuously provide public health advice where asked and that will include around both domestic and international and border testing,’ she said.
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