1.We launched an inquiry into Home Office preparedness for COVID-19 (Coronavirus) on 12 March 2020. Since then we have published over 150 pieces of written evidence, and reports on the policing response, domestic and child abuse, the immigration and visa systems and institutional accommodation. We have twice taken evidence from the Home Secretary and have engaged in correspondence with Home Office Ministers and officials on issues across the Home Office’s remit.
2.This report covers the measures taken at the UK border to respond to the spread of COVID-19. We heard from UK Border Force, the Immigration Services Union, the Port of Dover, the Airport Operators Association, former Border Force Director-General Tony Smith CBE, and experts in science policy, public health and epidemiology from the University of Bristol, University of Sheffield, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, National University of Singapore, Hong Kong University, and the University of Otago, New Zealand. We are thankful to all our witnesses for their contributions, and particularly those who joined from overseas.
3.This first chapter of this report seeks to set out the advice provided to the Government concerning measures to take at the UK border to manage the spread of the virus from January to May, and the decisions made by Government on that advice. It particularly addresses the Government’s decision to retract self-isolation guidance for arrivals from some other countries on 13 March, at approximately the same time as many comparable countries were strengthening measures to prevent the importation of cases. The second chapter looks at the border quarantine measures implemented by the Government in early June and adapted over the course of July.
4.In conducting this inquiry, we recognise that the COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented challenges and that the Government had to respond swiftly in circumstances of great uncertainty. We also recognise and are grateful for the hard work of all those responding to the crisis to ensure safety at the border at a time of considerable pressure, from Border Force staff to Government officials and scientific advisers. We recognise too that border measures in isolation are not effective in controlling the virus and must be considered alongside a suite of other measures such as social distancing and lockdowns. However, as one witness told us, all measures are “additive” and the relative absence of firm border measures in the UK earlier during the pandemic is notable.
5.While it is not possible to determine the precise impact that borders policy has on the trajectory of the pandemic, almost every country in the world including the UK has used border measures at some point to try to control or manage the spread of the virus. As well as important public health consequences of those decisions, there are also significant economic consequences. For that reason, we have looked not only at the decisions that were taken and their consequences but also the reasons behind them and the lessons that should be learned. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, and as patterns of infection in different countries keep changing, governments across the world are likely to keep drawing upon border measures to help control the spread of the virus. We want to be assured that everything possible is being done here in the UK to ensure that the most effective measures are put in place at the right stage.
1 [Professor Gabriel Scally]
Published: 5 August 2020