Transport Secretary says it ‘makes sense’ to look at quarantining all arrivals to UK
Grant Shapps was speaking at the daily Number 10 press conference.
It “makes sense” to look at tightening Britain’s borders, the Transport Secretary has said, amid reports the UK is poised to introduce a strict two-week quarantine for arrivals into the country.
Speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference, Grant Shapps would not confirm or deny claims from airlines and travel operators that the UK will bring in fresh 14-day restrictions for anyone coming into Britain amid the coronavirus pandemic.
But he confirmed authorities had the “capacity to do those things” when questioned on the 14-day move. Labour said such a plan "should have been worked through weeks ago".
The Transport Secretary said: “We did in fact close off, quarantine anyone from Wuhan in January, from Iran, Northern Italy and South Korea in February which peoople may not have realised at the time.
“But now we have a situation where, as we get the R number - the reproduction number - down in the UK and we begin to get things under control, and we now have the capacity as we just discussed in testing as well, it clearly then makes sense to look at what happens at the borders.”
Mr Shapps added: “You will have to wait for the Prime Minister tomorrow night... but it does mean that the capacity to do those things exists. But also that the science would back it as well.”
Under the proposals, all arrivals into the UK - including Brits returning from overseas - will reportedly be asked to self-isolate for 14 days.
But Airlines UK, which represents major carriers including British Airways and Easyjet, has warned that such a plan would “effectively kill international travel to and from the UK, and cause immeasurable damage to the aviation industry and wider UK economy”.
The lobby group added: “Nobody is going to go on holiday if they’re not able to resume normal life for 14 days, and business travel would be severely restricted.
“It will also make it all but impossible for aviation to resume any time soon, thereby setting back the UK’s economic recovery still further.”
“This sort of policy should have been worked through weeks ago" - Labour's Jim McMahon
Yvette Cooper, the Labour chair of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, meanwhile said countries including South Korea, Italy and Australia had brought in similar measures “many weeks and months ago” - and accused the Government of “playing catch up at the borders”.
“If Ministers are planning to wait until June to introduce this policy, they will need to explain why they are not acting more quickly, for example introducing immediate guidance asking passengers to self-isolate on their return,” she said.
“Other countries are operating checks or isolation policies even while their travel numbers are low, and have been doing so since an early stage in the epidemic rather than waiting either for travel numbers to increase or for domestic infections to fall.
“The Transport Secretary said that the Government has been guided by medical advice, however the Government still hasn’t published the medical or scientific evidence and advice behind their border decisions or why it is so different from other countries.”
Shadow Transport Secretary Jim McMahon urged the Government to “work closely with airlines, airport operators and Border Force to implement practical solutions to stop the spread of this virus”, as Labour called for an emergency support package to help the travel sector.
And he warned: “Ill-thought through proposals will fail as soon as they are rolled out, leaving the country back in a precarious situation.
"This sort of policy should have been worked through weeks ago."
But Mr Shapps said the medical advice "didn't support" a wider quarantine in the early days of the disease’s spread.
"Throughout this crisis and, particularly at the beginning and particularly in relation to that question, we’ve sought and taken medical advice," he said.
The Transport Secretary added: "In fact, I remember asking the chief medical adviser exactly about this point.
"The thing is that very few people are travelling by comparison to normal and particularly at the beginning of this crisis most of them were Brits returning from abroad."
Appearing alongside Mr Shapps at the Number 10 press conference, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van Tam said that ordering those who returned from China’s Wuhan to self-isolate for two weeks had already played a part in curbing Covid-19 cases in the UK.
He added: “If people go home, as we asked them to do when they returned from Wuhan at the end of January, and they stay in their own homes for 14 days, even if they were infected very shortly before they came into the UK, then they work out that incubation period at home and they do not spread the virus onwards into the community.
“That’s the scientific basis of how quarantine would in this circumstance.”