SAGE tells No10 to bring back 'fit to fly' tests for UK arrivals

SAGE calls for compulsory five-day isolation and ‘fit to fly’ tests for all UK arrivals as it warns ‘significant’ numbers of Omicron cases may be slipping past current curbs

  • Leaked minutes show they also want travellers to take more tests after arrival
  • Committee warns ministers should brace for a ‘very significant’ wave this winter
  • As many as 22 Omicron cases have been spotted in the UK to date 

All UK arrivals should be forced to quarantine for five days and take a pre-departure PCR test even if they are vaccinated, SAGE has advised.

The expert panel warned the current travel curbs were allowing ‘significant’ numbers of infected people to slip through the cracks.

Currently, fully vaccinated people coming into the UK need to take a PCR test within the first two days of returning to the UK.

There is nothing stopping them taking this as soon as they land and getting a result on the same day, releasing them from isolation in hours.

SAGE scientists said this might not give enough time for the virus to incubate. They also called for ministers to bring in day five and day eight tests.

Only unvaccinated people coming into the UK have to take ‘fit to fly’ tests before getting on a plane back to Britain.

SAGE’s new advice was leaked from minutes of an emergency meeting about the new Omicron variant held on Monday.

More than 30 scientists attended the video conference on November 29, led by chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and chief medical adviser Professor Chris Whitty.

They also said Britain should brace for a ‘potentially very significant wave with associated hospitalisations’ this winter if the worst estimates about Omicron turn out to be true.

Boris Johnson tightened travel rules yesterday to require arrivals to self-isolate until they get a negative PCR test result.

But shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper today said it was ‘totally unacceptable’ that ministers were failing to heed advice from their own scientists to impose more curbs at the border.

The Government rejected calls for up to eight-day self-isolation for vaccinated arrivals this week, arguing it would have a ‘detrimental’ impact on the travel industry. 

In total 22 cases of the Omicron varaint have been detected in the UK. The nine in Scotland are linked to one event. The 13 in England are all linked to foreign travel

SAGE scientists have called for testing requirements for vaccinated arrivals to be ramped up immediately. (Pictured: BA flight takes off from Heathrow)

Vaccinated arrivals could be avoiding self-isolation by taking a Covid test at the airport and getting their results just three hours later. 

Some testing companies, including ExpressTest, offer this package for £119. 

In total, 22 Omicron cases have been officially confirmed but hundreds more suspected samples are being analysed.

The nine cases in Scotland have been linked to one event on November 20, Nicola Sturgeon confirmed yesterday. 

But there are fears the virus may already be spreading domestically there. 

Tory MPs have blasted the Government after it emerged new rules on self-isolation will be enshrined in law until March, sparking fears the curbs could remain in place far beyond a promised three week review.

A new restriction came into force yesterday which will require people who have been in contact with a case of the Omicron coronavirus variant to self-isolate for 10 days or risk a fine of up to £10,000.

Boris Johnson has said that rule, along with requirements to wear face masks in shops and on public transport and for returning travellers to take a PCR test on or before day two after arrival, will be reviewed before Christmas.

But the regulations underpinning the self-isolation rule are not due to expire until March 24, prompting a backlash from anti-lockdown Tories.

Conservative MPs have expressed concerns that the new rule could cause a fresh ‘pingdemic’ which could devastate the economy and education system.

But Health Secretary Sajid Javid today dismissed those concerns as he said the current number of Omicron cases is still ‘very low’ with 22 confirmed cases across the UK.

Mr Javid also joined Boris Johnson in telling people they do not need to cancel Christmas parties or school nativity plays. 

In the minutes, seen by the BBC but yet to be published, SAGE scientists say extra swabs for travellers returning to the UK would be ‘valuable’. 

They also stressed how much uncertainty there is around the variant’s transmissibility and effectiveness against vaccines.

Ms Cooper slammed ministers for failing to sit up and take notice of advice from their scientists.

She said: ‘It is totally unacceptable that ministers are failing to take action at the border when even their own advisers are telling them to introduce pre-departure tests.

‘It cannot be right that people can travel to an airport, board a busy flight, queue at busy departure gates, and travel on trains and buses in the UK, all without having taken a test.

‘The Government must not repeat the mistakes it made earlier in the pandemic by being too slow to take action to prevent further cases of the Omicron variant entering the UK.’

Boris Johnson tightened restrictions for arrivals amid concern over the Omicron variant, saying they would slow down its ‘seeding’ in the UK.

But Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford have called on the Prime Minister to go further and require all arrivals to quarantine for eight days. 

Around 78,000 people were arriving in UK airports every day last year, when lockdowns and restrictions slashed air passenger numbers. It is thought to be higher now, although still below the 500,000 arrivals a day registered before the pandemic began. 

Up to fifty direct flights arrived in the UK from South Africa between the Omicron variant being detected and travel restrictions being imposed.

Now anyone coming from the red list country has to go into mandatory hotel quarantine for 11-days at a cost of £2,285. 

At least six countries in southern Africa have also been slapped with the restrictions. 

Guidance for un-vaccinated arrivals required them to take a Covid test three days before departure for the UK, and on day two and day eight after their arrival. They must also self-isolate for ten days. 

For vaccinated travellers they must self-isolate and take a Covid test within two days of their arrival. They can only leave self-isolation when the test is negative. 

Mr Johnson has also brought face masks back in shops, on public transport, and on school corridors, and said everyone who is a close contact of an Omicron case must self-isolate.

But he has faced pressure for restrictions to be further ramped up amid growing concern over the spread of the Omicron variant.

Dr Jenny Harries, the head of the UK Health Security Agency, said yesterday that people should avoid socialising in the run up to Christmas.

And some experts have called for face masks to be used in classrooms again.

People in Scotland have also been told to start working from home where possible to curb the spread of the virus.  

Scientists are working at breakneck speed to establish the risk it poses, but they say no concrete results are likely for the next two weeks.

Top epidemiologists at the UK Health Security Agency say they need hundreds of cases to be identified before they can make concrete assertions on its transmissibility.

Israeli news site Channel 24 suggested yesterday that Omicron may be 1.3 times more infectious than Delta, but they did not provide any data to back up the claim. The Israeli Health Ministry said it did not recognise the claim. 

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