Sunday 7 June 2020 / 10:33 AM Coronavirus / Nick Thomas-Symonds

Nick Thomas-Symonds calls on the Government to set out plans to ‘safely ease’ the quarantine restrictions to provide hope for industry, tourism and holiday makers

Labour calls for safe ‘easing of quarantine restrictions’

Labour has called on the Government to set out plans to ‘safely ease’ the quarantine restrictions to provide hope for industry, tourism and holiday makers.

The Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds MP, has written to the Government calling on ministers to bring forward proposals for how the UK can protect public health, while safely easing the 14-day international travel quarantine restrictions.

The measures called for include: a testing strategy to minimise the amount of time people need to spend in quarantine; publication of the full SAGE evidence on the effectiveness of the measures; and urgent confirmation of a sector-specific support package to protect jobs in the most at-risk sectors, such as transport, hospitality and tourism.

Commenting, the Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds MP, said:

“The Government’s handling of the issues around arrivals to the UK has lacked urgency and coherence from the start of this crisis; now it’s UK workers and the economy that are set to suffer.

“The policy of 14-day quarantining is being presented as the only option, but the Government has had months to develop a more effective approach that can help protect the public’s health and the health of the economy.

“That is why we are calling for the Government to get to grips with the quarantine confusion and publish proposals to Parliament next week that will provide clarity for industry, tourism and holiday makers.

“This requires vastly ramped up testing, tracing and isolating, to allow people to exit quarantine more quickly, alongside a specific support package for the most affected sectors.  In order to build trust and confidence the Government should be transparent, and publish the full scientific evidence behind this decision and confirm if SAGE had advised on these measures.

“We are of course willing to work constructively with the government on this issue, but they must come up with improved proposals urgently.”

 

Full text of the letter from Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds MP to Home Secretary Priti Patel MP:

I write to follow up on discussions we had in the House of Commons on Wednesday 3 June, on the Government’s quarantine measures.

As I said in my response, the management of arrivals to the United Kingdom has lacked urgency and coherence from the start of this crisis.

This means that the policy of 14-day quarantining is now being presented as the only option, but the Government has had months to develop a more effective approach.

As you will be aware, from 1 January to 23 March, when lockdown was imposed – only 273 people were formally quarantined, when over 18 million people entered the United Kingdom, by air alone. This included passengers from areas such as Italy and Spain, where Ministers could see on their own TV screens the impact Covid-19 was having.

Sir Patrick Vallance said in the Daily Briefing on Wednesday 03 June 2020, measures at the border are most effective when the incidences are very low in this country and when applied to countries that have higher incidence.

Clearly opportunities were missed in the early days of this crisis; as a result it’s now United Kingdom workers and the economy that are set to suffer. It is now vital that the whole Government comes together to implement a much-needed, joined-up strategy to support sectors of the economy that are at risk of collapse and to ensure we can exit this period of 14-day quarantine as soon as possible.

That is why the Labour Party is calling for:

  • A rapid testing programme where no one will have to wait more than 24 hours to receive a test and then no more than 24 hours to receive the results;
  • Full publication of the SAGE advice on quarantine, to provide transparency on the decision-making process.
  • A sector-specific support package, to save jobs and industries that have been put at risk of collapse by these measures.
  • Clarity on plans and timelines for so called ‘air bridges’, including what countries are being considered and on what basis.

These would be important steps in helping to provide an exit strategy for quarantine restrictions, thus helping address the economic consequences, which are likely to be hugely damaging and potentially costing many thousands of jobs.

By increasing testing, tracing and isolating capacity, as Labour has already called for, the United Kingdom would be in a far better position to allow those who are quarantining, and who are subsequently identified as not having the virus to re-enter society.

The enforcement of the measures will rely on incredible levels of good will from people, as there simply does not appear to be the resources necessary to effectively manage these restrictions. That is why confidence in the measures is so crucial.

There are also significant questions yet to be answered about how prepared the UK Border Agency is to administer these measures.  I have already heard that there are concerns from people working in this agency around access to sufficient levels of personal protective equipment (PPE). I would appreciate you addressing this point urgently, given the number of Border Force officials who are continuing to patrol our borders.

There are 1.6 million jobs dependent on the UK’s aviation sector. In recent weeks, Virgin Atlantic, Ryanair and British Airways have all announced job cuts.  This is why the Government must act quickly and put in place a support package for the aviation sector, which needs to include robust environmental conditions to aid a transition to a green economy together with protections for workers.  This must ensure that:

  • Jobs are protected
  • There is a clear commitment to tackling climate change via, for example, cleaner fuels and low emission technology;
  • Any company in receipt of money must ensure their tax base is in the UK;
  • No dividends should be paid until the company is proven to be commercially viable;
  • A commitment to pay UK-based suppliers is a priority;
  • All operators fully comply, without delay, with all consumer rights regulations.

The Labour Party is determined to work as a constructive and effective Opposition throughout this crisis.  However, in the circumstances that we believe clear action is required – we will call for it, for example in the case with support for Domestic Abuse services and the gross inequity of the Immigration Health Surcharge for NHS and social care workers, we will call for action.

Your promise that the first quarantine review will take place in the week commencing 28 June 2020 is simply not good enough. As a result, I am calling on you to be much clearer about an exit strategy for these quarantine measures now.  The British people desperately need assurances that you can address the mistakes made and time lost early in this crisis, by quickly putting in place a more targeted approach that allows the blunt tool of 14-day quarantine to be lifted safely and quickly.

 

Yours sincerely,

Nick Thomas-Symonds MP