Labour has described the Government as ‘slipping into utter chaos’ after ministers delayed the introduction of compulsory COVID testing for passengers arriving in England.
Last week transport secretary Grant Shapps announced that from this week (11-17 Jan) passengers travelling from all international destinations will be required to present a negative COVID-19 test result before departing.
As Transport Network reported, the Department for Transport (DfT) did not give a precise implementation date for the new measure and said that it would announce details of what was required later.
Late on Wednesday (13 Jan) the DfT said the requirement for passengers to have proof of a negative coronavirus (COVID-19) test to would apply to passengers arriving in England from 4am on Monday (18 January).
UPDATE: To give international arrivals time to prepare ?? passengers will be required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test before departure to England from MONDAY 18 JANUARY at 4am ??— Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) January 13, 2021
Mr Shapps said the delay was ‘to give international passengers time to prepare’, although this reflects the fact that the DfT has only just announced testing requirments.
On Thursday morning, the Scottish Government’s deputy first minister, John Swinney, confirmed that travellers arriving in Scotland are already required to provide proof of a negative COVID test.
Nick Thomas-Symonds MP, Labour’s shadow home secretary, said: ‘The Government has lacked a comprehensive airport testing policy through this pandemic and now it is slipping into utter chaos.
‘Issuing statements in the middle of the night, because their proposals are unworkable, causes ever greater challenges for travellers and industry.
‘This chronic failure is also putting us at risk yet again, from strains such as those that emerged in South Africa and Brazil. As ever, ministers are too slow to act and it’s putting people at serious risk.’
Although ministers have announced a ban on flights from South Africa, it has not yet restricted travel from Brazil but this was reported on Thursday morning to be under active consideration.
On Wednesday, Labour MP Yvette Cooper pointed out to prime minister Boris Johnson that travellers from South Africa are still able to travel to the UK via third countries without undertaking a test.
The DfT stressed that inbound passengers are required to take a COVID test even if coming from a country on its so-called travel corridors list.
It also clarified that passengers must take the test in the three days before they start their journey to England, ‘for example, if you travel on Friday, you must take a test no earlier than Tuesday’.
Passengers will need to present proof of their negative test before boarding to travel to England and those arriving in England without proof of a negative test result could be fined £500.
The DfT said that tests must meet performance standards of at least 97% specificity, and at least 80% sensitivity at viral loads above 100,000 copies/ml.
This could include tests such as a nucleic acid test, including a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test or derivative technologies, including loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) tests, or an antigen test, such as a test from a lateral flow device.