Priti Patel refuses to rule out blanket ban on non-essential travel

Priti Patel refuses to rule out blanket ban on non-essential travel into and out of the UK as ministers are warned people will find it IMPOSSIBLE to get a pre-arrival Covid test in some countries

  • Priti Patel refused to rule out blanket ban on non-essential travel to the UK 
  • Boris Johnson accused of ‘dragging his heels’ on pre-arrival tests at UK borders
  • PM promised the move but it is not expected to be unveiled for a ‘couple of days’ 
  • Are you flying back to the UK this week? e-mail: [email protected] 

Priti Patel today refused to rule out a blanket ban on non-essential travel into and out of the UK as ministers scramble to tighten up border controls. 

Asked about the idea, the Home Secretary said the government was ‘reviewing measures at the border’ and further announcements would be made in the coming days.

Boris Johnson confirmed earlier this week that a requirement for arrivals to have tested negative will be introduced, amid alarm at the spread of new variants around the world.

But the system – likely to mean people must test negative within 72 hours of travelling – is not expected to be unveiled until the end of the week or even later, with the implementation date unclear. Experts have warned there are serious practical problems, with the chances of getting access to a reliable test at short notice in countries such as Barbados ‘zero’.

Ms Patel suggested that the measures could go even further as she was pressed during a round of interviews this morning.

‘Further action is going to take place. The government is reviewing measures at the border… You will hear very shortly some of the changes that the government will be proposing.’

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme if there would be a ban on non-essential travel, Ms Patel said Britons were already being advised to stay at home and only travel abroad within ‘strict rules’.

Pushed again on whether people will no longer be able to ‘come and go’ through airports, she said: ‘Our measures have always been under review when it comes to health measures at the border and also restricted measures on international travel.’   

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the government was ‘reviewing measures at the border’ and further announcements would be made in the coming days

Boris Johnson confirmed earlier this week that a requirement for arrivals to have tested negative will be introduced, amid alarm at the spread of new variants around the world. Pictured, border control at Heathrow Airport

Nadhim Zahawi engaged in brutal clashes with Piers Morgan yesterday 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.’

Travel consultant Paul Charles has raised concerns about how realistic it is to have a pre-arrival test policy.

Pointing to reports that there is ‘zero’ chance of getting a test in Barbados because all resources are focused on test and trace, he tweeted: ‘How I wonder is the government’s plan for everyone departing from overseas to take a test ever going to work?’ 

He also questioned what will happen if test results come back slowly, and whether the infrastructure is in place to handle the paperwork. 

Mr Johnson came under fire in the Commons yesterday over when the testing requirement will be brought in, and how much notice people will get. 

Hauliers would be exempt to avoid causing gridlock at ports.

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.’ 

Thousands of passengers have arrived at Heathrow over the past few days, with full data not yet available but sources at the airport saying the figure would not be in the tens of thousands.

In November nearly 747,000 entered through the London hub airport. 

Mr Johnson told a press conference on Tuesday 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 yesterday: ‘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.

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.

Figures from Labour yesterday 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’.  

Mr Thomas-Symonds said 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 has defended its ‘stringent measures’, and pointed to its move to stop direct flights from South Africa to the UK.  

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.

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