MPs described the UK quarantine measures as “a fudge to cover government failure” and “the wrong policy at the worst possible time” as Home Secretary Priti Patel laid the regulations before Parliament today.
Patel defended the 14-day self-isolation of most arrivals from June 8 against an onslaught from MPs, insisting “now is the right time” for quarantine.
She told Parliament: “These are public health measures designed to protect people from imported cases.
“The transmission rate in the UK continues to decline and the scientific advice is imported infections now pose a more significant threat to our recovery.
“To limit the spread of infection, arrivals must self-isolate for 14 days.”
Patel insisted: “We have developed the policy carefully and the measures will be kept under review. The first review will take place in the week commencing June 28. These are temporary requirements.”
But she said: “We will only review measures when the evidence shows it is safe to do so.”
The review would include “the rate of infection and transmission internationally and the credibility of reporting measures international partners have in place, levels of imported cases in countries with more relaxed border measures and the degree to which antibody and other testing methods prove effective.”
Patel added: “We will take into account the impact on the economy and the travel industry. We understand how tough these measures are.
“We are asking the industry to work with us on this. The government and industry share the same aims to get the country going again in a way that is safe.”
She said: “We will host a round table with the Department for Transport and the industry tomorrow.”
Asked by MPs why quarantine was not introduced earlier, Patel described “the enhanced monitoring” at borders from late January to March and said: “Once there were restrictions in the UK, the scientific advice was border restrictions would have minimal impact.
“Now domestic transmission is coming under control this is the right time to bring this in.”
Nick Thomas-Symonds MP told the home secretary: “There has to be public reassurance these measures are not just a three-week fudge to cover the government’s failure.”
Other MPs questioned why the UK is “out of step with most other countries” and called for the measures to be abandoned, suspended or reviewed and air bridges set up.
Patel insisted: “It is not for me to drop the regulations. They are not something for the Home Office to consider independently.
“This is not about the convenience or inconvenience of certain measures. These are public health measures. They are cross-government measures to protect public health.”
She told MPs: “This is one component. There are many other aspects to how we can make air travel safe to restart. We will look at all measures we can bring forward to ensure air travel is safe and the public protected.
“We are determined to work with the travel industry and all carriers to find a safe way to travel.”
Asked to give more detail on the measures, Patel said: “All guidance will be published in advance of June 8.”
Earlier, MP Huw Merriman, chair of the transport select committee, told aviation minister Kelly Tolhurst: “Quarantine is the wrong policy at the worst possible time for the aviation industry.”
Tolhurst replied: “We are working hard to get measures in place to get the aviation sector up and running again. [But] ultimately limiting the spread of coronavirus has to be our priority.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs: “As we get infection rates down, it’s vital we make sure the infection is not readmitted.”
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