Testing for coronavirus at airports is not a ‘reliable’ way of preventing the disease coming into the country, Dominic Raab insisted today.
The Foreign Secretary defied mounting calls for a screening system to be introduced to save the travel industry, claiming that backers of the move – now including Labour – had not ‘thought it through’.
Mr Raab said under 10 per cent of cases would be caught by tests at the border, as people might still be asymptomatic.
But he did confirm that ministers are looking at whether a two-test system – with people being checked on arrival and then again perhaps eight days later – could be deployed to halve the two-week quarantine period.
Growing number of MPs and business chiefs have warned the government that the self-isolation rules are pushing travel companies and airlines to the brink, crippling trade and tourism, and jeopardising the recovery.
Tony Blair and former Cabinet minister David Davis are among those voicing alarm about the ‘strangulation of our economy’.
Testing for coronavirus at airports (Heathrow pictured) is not a ‘reliable’ way of preventing the disease coming into the country, Dominic Raab insisted today
Mr Raab (left) said under 10 per cent of Covid cases would be caught by tests at the border, as people might still be asymptomatic. Keir Starmer’s (right) Labour has backed the introduction of testing at airports
Bahrain dropped second Covid test after just 0.2% were positive
Bahrain dropped quarantine for arrivals who were tested at airports after discovering only a tiny proportion went on to develop coronavirus.
The Gulf state originally introduced a two-test system, with passengers screened on landing and then again after 10 days of self-isolation.
The system is similar to that now being considered by ministers in the UK.
However, Bahrain abandoned the second test after concluding that the risk of people developing the disease later was miniscule.
Just 0.2 per cent – one in 500 people – who were negative on arrival tested positive 10 days later, according to the authorities.
In interviews this morning, Mr Raab dismissed the intervention from Labour, saying the party had been demanding the introduction of quarantine just weeks ago. ‘I don’t think they are really thinking this through,’ he said.
Mr Raab insisted more airport testing was not a ‘silver bullet’.
‘Let’s just be clear about this when we think about airports – there is no silver bullet in airports,’ he told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show.
‘The current data suggests that the success rate of positively identifying people with Covid with a test in the airport is less than 10 per cent.’
Challenged that those numbers increase if passengers are tested again later, Mr Raab said: ‘The direction of travel will be making sure we have the capacity and the ability for when the time is right to ease up on the self-isolation at home, and that’s certainly something that we’ll be looking at.
‘But we couldn’t – and I think Labour have got themselves into a terrible muddle on this – the idea that one test in an airport could resolve the quarantine issues … we couldn’t safely do that.’
Pressed on the idea of two tests on Sky News, Mr Raab said: ‘We can look at that, we keep it constantly under review but that will be subject to the same challenges that you mentioned in relation to quarantine.
‘So we can think about the system and we’d like to put in a failsafe system, but until the point at which we can, we’re not going to risk reviving or re-infecting the United Kingdom with the virus when we’ve got to this very important stage with schools going back, with businesses going back, with more jobs being announced…
‘We’re not going to put that at risk by relaxing quarantine or any other measures which are critical to our ability to control, and keep suppressed, Covid-19.’
In a letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel, Labour said the ‘dire warnings’ from the travel sector about the use of ‘chaotic’ blanket self-isolation advice meant it was time to review the methods being used to prevent the spread of Covid-19 from those returning to the UK from abroad.
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said a ‘robust testing regime in airports’ could minimise the need for those returning from countries with high coronavirus prevalence to quarantine for two weeks.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, pictured earlier this week on a visit to HS2 in Solihull is considering changing the UK’s quarantine rules after ruling out such a possibility earlier this week
Former prime minister Tony Blair, pictured, has urged the current PM Boris Johnson to concentrate on testing and tracing people infected with Covid-19 to mitigate against the impact of the disease on the UK’s economy since March
He also said ‘serious concerns’ about the low-level of monitoring of incoming travellers, claiming ‘less than a third of passenger locator forms are checked’, were another reason why a review was required.
Meanwhile, Mr Blair wrote in the Mail on Sunday about the ‘current travel nightmare’, saying the Government must use ‘every innovation and capacity’ to ease the problem.
He added: ‘Every decision taken about the easing is a mix of science and judgment, but when it comes to international travel, we need a much better mixture of the two.
‘The insistence on the current quarantine measures is doing huge damage to the British economy – quite unnecessarily so.’
The UK Government has been making weekly decisions in response to rising coronavirus rates in Europe and beyond, opting to reimpose travel restrictions where the risk of infection is escalating.
Holidaymakers in France, Spain and the Netherlands have all been caught out by the changes in recent weeks as ministers have introduced, in some cases with only a few hours’ notice, regulations forcing those returning to self-isolate for 14 days.
But Mr Thomas-Symonds said the quarantine was having a ‘dire’ impact on the travel industry.
He has called on ministers to carry out a ‘rapid review’ of the current protocols and consider introducing more testing at airports.