130.Between 23 March and 28 April there was no minuted SAGE discussion of measures that could be taken at the border. On 28 April SAGE considered a paper titled ‘measures at the border’. The paper ostensibly poses a number of questions to SAGE from the Home Office and provides Home Office analysis to inform discussion of those questions. Some of the questions posed and discussion points raised are in Box 1, below.
Box 1: Extract from ‘Measures at the border’, provided to SAGE on 27 April 2020
Questions posed to SAGE are in bold type; answers provided are in normal type
Does SAGE agree with the principle that if imported cases represent a higher proportion of total UK cases, there would be scientific reason to implement measures at the border?
[ … ]
Is it possible for SAGE to use public health and modelling input to provide definitive advice on a particular point at which it would be advisable to implement measures at the border to control imported cases? If not, is it possible to model a range of scenarios to inform decision-making based on risk appetite?
How to assess the number of imported cases is not trivial. In the absence of direct data on the number of cases coming into the country from abroad, analytical approximation of predicted imported cases is likely to be the best measure.
[ … ]
Analysis could focus on countries that are assessed as being particularly high risk based on the incidence of COVID-19 cases in their population. The numbers of deaths reported in those countries is likely to be a better indicator of incidence than confirmed cases, given differences in testing regimes in different countries. Reported numbers of deaths could therefore be used to extrapolate the likely incidence in the general population, and in conjunction with the predicted passenger numbers, give an estimate of the 2 numbers of cases likely to be imported from those countries over the coming week.
A similar approach could be taken to include passengers travelling by rail and by sea.
These figures could be used to determine the contribution of imported cases to the UK totals. If the total number of UK cases falls to very low numbers, then the associated uncertainties would require absolute numbers of imported cases, rather than the proportion, to be considered.
Does SAGE agree to the approach outlined above to determine the proportion of total UK cases that are imported (and thus the level of risk from imported cases)?
[ … ] Is SAGE able to stand up the ability to determine the level of risk from imported cases at any particular time?
Options for measures at the border
[ … ] The main options are:
Source: Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies, Measures at the border, 27 April 2020
The minutes of SAGE’s 28 April meeting reach the following conclusions:
As the number of cases in the UK decreases, the potential proportion of imported cases may increase. It is impossible to estimate the number of cases which may be imported and their proportion of the total.
Determining a tolerable level of risk from imported cases requires consideration of a number of non-science factors and is a policy question.
Measures implemented at the border may change the level of risk and these will be reviewed.
131.On 10 May, the Prime Minister announced that 14-day quarantine would be required as part its recovery strategy, saying “to prevent re-infection from abroad, I am serving notice that it will soon be the time—with transmission significantly lower—to impose quarantine on people coming into this country by air”. The following day, the Government published its COVID-19 recovery strategy. This included the first details of that future quarantine regime, as follows:
First, alongside increased information about the UK’s social distancing regime at the border, the Government will require all international arrivals to supply their contact and accommodation information. They will also be strongly advised to download and use the NHS contact tracing app.
Second, the Government will require all international arrivals not on a short list of exemptions to self-isolate in their accommodation for fourteen days on arrival into the UK. Where international travellers are unable to demonstrate where they would self-isolate, they will be required to do so in accommodation arranged by the Government. The Government is working closely with the devolved administrations to coordinate implementation across the UK.
Small exemptions to these measures will be in place to provide for continued security of supply into the UK and so as not to impede work supporting national security or critical infrastructure and to meet the UK’s international obligations. All journeys within the Common Travel Area will also be exempt from these measures.
132.At a Downing Street press briefing on 22 May, the Home Secretary provided more information about the measures, announcing that “temporary public health restrictions at the border” were required “to protect hard-won progress and protect against the devastation of a resurgence in a second wave of the virus”. She announced that from mid-June spot checks would be undertaken to ensure that self-isolation was being adhered to, and that the police would be empowered to issue Fixed-Penalty Notices of up to £1,000 for breaches in quarantine requirements.
133.On 8 June 1,326 cases were recorded in the UK, with a cumulative total of 286,198. There were 77 deaths on that date, bringing the total number of deaths confirmed to 40,542.
134.Statutory Instruments brought quarantine measures into effect across the nations of the UK on 8 June. Arrivals into the UK were required to provide personal and contact details on a “Passenger Locator Form” and self-isolate for 14 days at an address provided. The regulations also created a regime of Fixed-Penalty Notices. For breach of self-isolation requirements, a fine of £1,000 would be issued; for “information offences” such as the provision of a knowingly false name, fines ran from £100 for the first offence up to £3,200 for a sixth offence.
135.The requirements for self-isolation under the regulations are more onerous than those imposed on the broader UK population during lockdown from 23 March. For example, it is not permitted to leave the location of quarantine for shopping or for exercise. It remains permissible to leave for reasons including escaping the risk of harm, seeking medical assistance, or attending the funeral of a family member or close friend. As discussed earlier in this report, the Government previously justified the lifting of earlier border self-isolation guidance in March on the basis that non-compulsory measures introduced across the whole UK were identical in scope to that guidance. However, by the time these legally enforceable measures were introduced on 8 June, it had clearly been concluded that those subject to quarantine required stricter measures to reduce the risk of importation.
136.Schedule 2 to the regulations lists categories of persons exempted from the requirement to quarantine. The list is extensive, and includes: healthcare professionals travelling to the UK to provide essential healthcare; categories of inspector including of civil aviation, of ships and of nuclear facilities; persons working in offshore petroleum facilities; Eurotunnel crew and air crew; diplomats accredited to the UK; those escorting a person sought for extradition; and “a person who resides in the UK and who pursues an activity as an employed or self-employed person in another country to which they usually go at least once a week.” In response to a written question from Baroness Hamwee, Home Office Minister Baroness Willliams of Trafford explained that “the exemption for those travelling at least once a week ensures that those who live in one country but are employed in another can continue to pursue their employment if they are unable to work from home and can return to work”.
137.Explaining the new regulations in a statement to the House on 3 June, the Home Secretary committed to review the measures every three weeks, starting on 28 June. She explained that the measures had been designed with the Cabinet Office, BEIS, DfT and DHSC, as well as the devolved Administrations and “science and industry”. The Home Secretary told the House that the Government would publish “in due course more information on the criteria that must be satisfied for these health measures to be lifted”, but that factors for consideration would include “the rate of infection and transmission internationally and the credibility of reporting; the measures that international partners have put in place; levels of imported cases in other countries where there are more relaxed border measures, and the degree to which antibody and other methods of testing prove effective in minimising health risk.” She added that “these measures are backed by science and supported by the public.”
138.At the time the UK introduced stronger border measures in June, a range of approaches were being taken by other countries at similar stages in the pandemic.
139.On 11 June the European Commission recommended that Schengen Member and Associated States lift internal border controls by 15 June 2020, allowing free travel between European countries. Some European nations have however maintained some temporary border controls, and Spain maintained its traffic restrictions until 21 June. The Commission also set out an approach to lifting restrictions on travel into the EU from 30 June, and on that date the European Council adopted the Commission’s recommendation, stating that Member States should begin to gradually lift restrictions on non-essential travel for residents of a number of third countries. The countries would be subject to a range of criteria, including: that the number of new Covid-19 cases over the last 14 days and per 100,000 inhabitants is close to or below the EU average as of 15 June 2020; that the trend of new cases over the same period in comparison to the previous 14 days is stable or decreasing; and the adequacy of their overall response to the pandemic and provision and reliability of information on aspects such as testing, surveillance, contact tracing, containment, treatment and reporting. The list of third countries is to be reviewed every two weeks.
140.Other nations have different policies:
141.In written evidence to us before the announcement of the measures Tony Smith, former interim Director-General of Border Force, suggested that there should be international standards on quarantine to allow border officials and ports of entry to manage flows of passengers who are exempt from quarantine.
142.On 22 May, Professor Wilder-Smith told us that the effectiveness of border quarantine measures “really depends on the timing and is highest very early on in an outbreak”. She compared the situation with the SARS outbreak in 2003, noting that
it was one single case that led to the outbreak [of SARS] in Singapore. The second case, which was also imported, had no secondary cases. Therefore, I do think that we still need to put all our efforts into quarantine. Now, at a time when the cases are declining, it is very important to tighten up our border quarantine measures.
She added that any measures would need to be “strengthened” with “legal enforcement”.
143.Both Professor Wilder-Smith and Professor Scally noted the importance of including quarantine as part of a wider strategy including widespread testing, such as that undergone by arrivals in Hong Kong. Professor Wilder-Smith noted that in Singapore, identification of countries to be subject to quarantine changed regularly between January and March. She suggested that the UK identify countries to be subject to measures on a weekly basis, rather than applying blanket measures.
144.Prior to the announcement of new quarantine regulations, we asked the Airport Operators Association and the Port of Dover what discussions they had had with Government about new quarantine measures, and about international alignment to match their highly internationalised sectors. Karen Dee, Chief Executive, Airport Operators Association, told us that
We see the quarantine proposal as being a rather blunt tool because it just applies to everybody, in all circumstances. If the medical evidence suggests that is what is needed, of course we will go with that, but our preference is to work on, “What is the international agreement on a set of standards?” [ … ] the air bridge proposal, which is to look at agreements with other countries, would be a much better approach to this, because not only would it be much more risk-based and would therefore reduce the economic impact, which is going to be huge, but it would also achieve the kind of safety we are looking for.
She also queried whether exempting categories of person from quarantine regulations would have any economic benefit for the aviation industry:
Of course, an airline is not going to fly a flight if only one or two people who are exempted are going to be coming in. That is why we are concerned about the way this will operate; it may simply lead to a prolonged shutdown of all aviation.
145.Our colleagues on the Transport Committee have reported more fully on the impact of quarantine measures on the aviation industry. They shared Ms Dee’s concerns that blanket quarantine measures would be profoundly damaging to the aviation sector, concluding that they were “not persuaded that a blanket quarantine policy is the right policy option at this time compared to the alternatives”. They agreed with Ms Dee and Mr Smith that introducing global aviation standards was necessary to preserve the UK’s aviation sector in the medium term.
146.We asked witnesses on 10 June for their initial reaction to the UK’s measures. Sir David Skegg told us
I think the point is that these border measures would be most effective if they were done very early. As in the case of New Zealand, all of your cases were originally imported—this disease did not originate in the United Kingdom—so the earlier the better. I think it would have been much more effective if you had done this in February, but it may still be worth doing now. It all depends on what the strategy is and that is not clear to me.
147.Professor Leung pointed out that decisions over border closure always operated within the context of “a three-way tug of war between health protection, economic preservation and social consent or the emotional wellbeing of the population”:
I do not think that the three-way tensions are going to go away any time soon regardless of what stage of the pandemic we have come to. Secondly, it is important to bear in mind—and we have to be fair—that it has always been the de facto position of the WHO and many national Governments before Covid-19 not to impose any border restrictions in most circumstances. But Covid-19 has proven itself to be special because of the characteristics of the transmission and also because of the overwhelming magnitude.
He noted the importance of interaction between different countries’ approaches:
Thirdly, in terms of the interrelations between different travel destinations, whether it is for business or for leisure, it is not what you do unilaterally that matters most. It is what everybody else whom you trade with does, and receive and send tourists from and to, that matters. If you were the most open port, but all the other countries with which you have relations all impose very strict border restrictions then it would not do you any good to be very open either.
148.In light of this, it is encouraging the Home Secretary was clear that the Government would monitor other countries’ experiences of COVID-19 and border measures to inform future UK decisions.
149.We welcome the Government’s decision to re-introduce border measures. We discuss later what the most appropriate border measures should be. But at a time when COVID-19 infections continue to increase across the world and when hotspots of infection continue to change, all countries are going to need different kinds of border measures to control the spread of the virus for some time to come.
150.It was inevitable that the Government’s reintroduction of border measures was greeted with some scepticism in June. Having removed country-specific guidance in March when other countries were imposing compulsory quarantine arrangements for arrivals, the Government then found itself increasing restrictions just as other countries were loosening them in June—something which was hard to explain, and which appeared inconsistent. This has been exacerbated by the Government’s continued defence of the previous lack of quarantine at the border from March until June rather than acknowledging that, in hindsight, firmer measures should have been in place. Building up credibility requires transparency. The Government should publish the analysis that informed its decision to introduce quarantine measures and explain how it relates to the Government’s wider strategy for overcoming the pandemic.
151.The Government faces a difficult task: how to ensure control of the virus at the same time as getting the economy moving, including international travel, in the safest possible way. It will build more support for the difficult balancing judgements it has to take if it is open about the evidence behind them.
152.The new measures came into force on 8 June. In written evidence to us, the Immigration Services Union (ISU) told us that guidance for Border Force officers on how to operate the new measures was not available until very late in the day: “in the event the guidance, amounting to 50 pages of some fairly technically dense material was not released to staff until after 5pm on Friday 5 June.” While Border Force is a “24/7 operation”, the ISU noted that “those providing policy advice and non-operational support for officers do not work weekends.” Therefore, “where queries arose, for example on the use of powers of arrest in the event of non-compliance, it was not possible to get a response prior to implementation”. The ISU concluded that “as much as one third of staff would have arrived for duty on or after Monday [8 June] with only the knowledge obtained through the media of what this change was in practical terms.” Owing to the late release of guidance, the ISU claim it “contained anomalies and illogicalities which, because of the late disclosure, staff were not able to challenge or understand. This further undermined the perception of the value of what staff were being asked to do.” For example, “ the address given [by a passenger in the Passenger Locator Form] on arrival could not be checked; in accordance with instructions it should not even be challenged unless it was manifestly incredible. The guidance specified as examples where travellers gave their address as Buckingham Palace, or their name as Mickey Mouse.” They added “travellers appear quite willing to put some form of plausible address into the declaration although this cannot be checked or verified”.
153.The ISU noted that “on implementation the response was very localised” with some locations attempting to “turn off their e-gates and conduct 100% checking”; they noted queues at Heathrow “which in normal times would have been relatively unremarkable, but in post Virus travel with such significantly reduced numbers was unprecedented”. The Public and Commercial Services Union expressed similar concerns to the ISU. A public statement on the PCS website noted that “implementation of the new measures across the country varied greatly. Some regions closed all their e-gates and attempted 100% coverage of all arriving passengers, whilst some left their e-gates open and did spot-checks”. PCS assessed that “in many areas where up to 80% or more of the travelling public normally go through the gates, this alone produced an increase in workload.” PCS were also concerned that “the failure of IT, and the lack of preparation time meant that systems implemented at the last minute often failed to work or were unable to deal with the practicalities of the situation”.
154.There were media reports of problems with the Passenger Locator Form application, including the option initially to pick a country of arrival that no longer existed, such as Yugoslavia or East Germany. This was an error and quickly fixed. The Passenger Locator Form was originally only available in English, before being made available in 10 more languages a week later; however the ISU reported incidences where mobile phones were “frequently passed back and forth between travellers and officers as officers tried to help travellers complete the form”; in a context where minimal cross-household contact is encouraged, this understandably could concern officers. Provision of personal protective equipment for Border Force officers is addressed later in this report.
155.We asked the Airport Operators Association and the Port of Dover on 22 May how long they estimated it might take for them to prepare to implement any new measures. Karen Dee told us that, if she received information on 22 May, “it would take a few weeks. It depends, really, on what we are required to do, but if we need to make changes to the arrivals halls, that will take some time and some planning”. Sarah West, Chief Operating Officer, Port of Dover, told us that, ahead of any border measures being announced, the port had worked with ferry operators travelling to Calais and Dunkirk to “make sure we adapt to the higher level and we have consistency, because there is some uncertainty for travellers.”
156.It is very disappointing that Border Force officers did not receive guidance on the implementation of new regulations until less than one working day before they came into force. Without enough time to raise questions and properly to digest the guidance, it is likely that avoidable mistakes were made during the first days that the regulations were in force. As the UK begins to exempt countries from the regulations, the task of ascertaining who should and should not quarantine and what information they should provide is further complicated. We ask the Government to ensure that any changes to guidance are provided to Border Force officials as early as possible before they come into operation.
157.In a Written Ministerial Statement on 29 June, the Secretary of State for Transport informed the House that the Government would “shortly begin to ease the health measures at the UK border, allowing passengers to be exempted from self-isolation requirements in certain circumstances on arrival in the UK. This will apply to international rail, maritime, and aviation”. On 3 July, the Department for Transport published a list of those countries and territories deemed exempt from quarantine regulations in England; it comprised 59 countries. Exemptions would commence from 10 July 2020. Exemptions in other parts of the UK remained a matter for devolved governments.
158.Prior to the announcement, it had been reported that the Government had designed a ‘traffic light system’ to classify risk in different countries: green for the lowest risk countries; amber for countries that were less safe than green countries; or red, which would result in quarantine requirements for returning passengers. Similar approaches had been taken by other Governments, including in Czechia, Hungary and Belgium, all of which had published their traffic light assessments. The Belgian traffic light system includes sub-national variation, and categorises Aragon and Catalonia as higher risk than the rest of Spain. The UK’s traffic light assessment was not published as part of the UK Government’s announcement.
159.In a separate written ministerial statement, The Secretary of State for Transport set out the process informing the travel corridors. It involved the Joint Biosecurity Centre, in close consultation with Public Health England and the Chief Medical Officer, and an approach to assessing the public health risk based on virus incidence rates, trends in incidence and deaths, and assessments of countries’ public health approaches. In a government news story the Transport Secretary said that “whether you are a holidaymaker ready to travel abroad or a business eager to open your doors again, this is good news for British people and great news for British businesses.” He also warned that “safety must remain our watchword and we will not hesitate to move quickly to protect ourselves if infection rates rise in countries we are reconnecting with.” The statement was titled “Self-isolation lifted for lower risk countries in time for holidays this summer”.
160.We discuss the analysis behind the Government’s approach later. This categorisation informed the Government’s decisions about relaxation of border measures and has allowed the establishment of travel corridors through which passengers arriving in England from certain countries and territories will be exempted from the requirement to self-isolate.
161.The Scottish Government announced on 8 July that passengers would not need to quarantine if they arrived from 57 destinations with similar or lower levels of infection than Scotland. In making the announcement, the First Minister provided more information on the analysis and the unpublished traffic light system developed by Public Health England, which she explained had informed both the UK Government’s and the Scottish Government’s decisions:
On Friday, the UK Government published a list of 59 countries and territories for which it would no longer, for England, impose quarantine restrictions. The information underpinning that list, separated countries into a green or low risk category and an amber or medium risk category.
In the green category are 39 countries or territories, which either have very low rates of COVID-19 or very small populations, and therefore considered low risk.
And in the amber group are 20 countries where the risks are considered to be greater and so classed as medium.
Those green and amber ratings are decided on the basis of two factors - first, the prevalence of the virus in each country, and second an assessment of the current situation–based on things like numbers of new cases and local outbreaks–conducted initially by Public Health England.
162.The Scottish Government’s announcement described the aims of Scotland’s response to the pandemic as being “to limit the introduction of new chains of transmission of the virus as the country’s own infection rates are/have been falling”. This enabled the same travel corridors between Scotland and other countries as the UK Government had done for England, with two exceptions: Spain and Serbia. The First Minister told media that she could not “in good conscience lift restrictions” on Spain, owing to its estimated prevalence rate of 330 per 100,000 population compared to 28 per 100,000 in Scotland. These estimates were based on the unpublished reports of the Joint Biosecurity Centre.
163.Oral evidence to the Committee supported the careful opening of travel corridors with low levels of infections; however, we also heard significant warnings about the risks involved from public health experts in countries that are taking a more cautious approach to relaxing their border restrictions like New Zealand and Singapore.
164.Karen Dee suggested that travel corridors would be a “much better approach” than blanket quarantine and would “reduce the economic impact”. Giving evidence from Switzerland, Professor Wilder-Smith told us on 22 May that
I believe that quarantine is necessary, but I am against blanket quarantine for all incoming travellers. Why should someone coming in from New Zealand, where there are zero cases, be quarantined in the UK for two weeks? Seriously, that does not make sense. Here in Switzerland, where we now have 10 cases per day, out of a population of 8 million, the risk of that one person travelling is extremely low, so I would not quarantine them. I still believe in the differential: if the risk is higher than yours in the UK, you must quarantine.
165.She explained that bringing in someone from a lower incidence country, such as Greece, “does not increase our overall incidence within the UK”. She concluded that “you need to have a full, 100% travel ban on Brazil” and other high-incidence countries but warned “do not punish New Zealand or South Korea.” Tony Smith agreed that the UK should implement quarantine “zoomed in to the high-risk countries—countries that have a clearly higher incidence than the UK at the time”. Professor Gabriel Leung described the consideration of border measures as a “three-way tug of war” between public tolerance, economic risk, and health risk.
166.Professor Gabriel Scally, on the other hand, favoured a more universal approach, saying
I understand the analysis, but I am not sure I agree with the conclusion. A swap of sick people doesn’t seem to be a great idea under any circumstances. Secondly, we have to take into account the circumstances of travel, as I mentioned earlier. If we are still saying that social distancing is important, then that seems to be antipathetic to aircraft travel. Movement through transport hubs or ferries is flawed.
Sir David Skegg said “if [travellers] are coming from countries with a lower prevalence of infections I think that is less of a problem for Britain, but of course if your policy is to try to stamp out this infection, obviously every case counts.”
167.It is no coincidence that travel corridors have been opening in time for the peak European holiday season. The Office for National Statistics estimated that, in August 2019, 4.1 million visits to the UK were made by overseas residents, and that in turn UK residents made 9.4 million visits abroad. Overseas residents spent £3.1 billion on visits to the UK during that month. The impact on the travel industry of COVID-19 has already been devastating.
168.However, witnesses to our inquiry warned that it was premature to open mass travel markets. Professor Leung told us that
One is of course if you do not encourage or facilitate this mass market tourism then it would be safest. That is making a statement of the obvious. It is also very difficult to imagine that most of these tourists would be lying on private beaches, so what you can imagine is crowded beaches, but I cannot imagine anybody going on a holiday in any kind of destination where you go and enjoy the sun but do very good hand hygiene and put on a mask. That is just not something that you could imagine.
Professor Teo agreed that mass market travel “does not sound like a good idea” and emphasised that steps being taken in Singapore to open travel corridors with China and other countries were for business travellers only and not for the mass market; travellers would require to take tests at each end of their journey. He noted that Singaporeans travelling to countries that did not have a travel corridor agreement would lose their healthcare coverage and insurance if infected with COVID-19.
169.Witnesses felt that any increase in travel volumes would have to be met with a rapid expansion in testing in order to identify any possible importations and risks of secondary transmission. Professor Leung said that “testing capacity would need to be massively ramped up for any kind of cross-border travel, even within these travel bubbles or air bridges, first and foremost, not least from an occupational health point of view for air crew and port personnel who come into intense and frequent contact with travellers from everywhere.” However, this would not entirely remove the requirement to quarantine arrivals and was no guarantor of non-infectiousness. Professor Teo said:
The reality is, based on what we know about the transmission dynamics right now, a negative test at the point of entry may not mean anything. It does not necessarily mean that the person is free from infection because it could just be in the initial phase of infection where PCR tests are not that sensitive to pick it up. I will repeat, a negative test at the point of entry does not necessarily mean the person is free from infection.
170.Sir David Skegg warned that travelling at all could increase opportunity to catch the virus. He noted that in planes “people are in close proximity with air being recirculated, using the same toilets and so on”
171.Professor Leung suggested that any longer-term travel corridor would require cross-border sharing of information and contact tracing. He noted that “tracing within national borders between different provinces or states or counties is complex enough. You can imagine how non-trivial cross-border tracing can become if you are talking about these kinds of air bridges.”
172.Tony Smith told us on 22 May that for border measures to be effective, “countries need to be identified on a weekly basis” and the Government’s three-weekly review proposal was not sufficiently frequent:
Singapore identified these countries on a daily basis. On a daily basis they looked at the incidence and added them to the list for travel bans. We need to be as agile as Singapore. Maybe a weekly basis is enough.
173.Although the first review of measures (which resulted in the initial introduction of travel corridors) was carried out after three weeks, as of 24 July the Government has now committed to updating travel corridor guidance on gov.uk “on a weekly basis (should any be required) to reflect the shifting international health picture”. It adds that “the border health measures (i.e. the overall quarantine arrangements) remain subject to review every 28 days in England”. In practice, it appears that decisions are being made on a daily basis.
174.We welcome the Government’s attempt to develop an approach to travel corridors which recognises the different prevalence of the virus in different countries and regions. It is clearly sensible to be able to treat travellers from New Zealand, where there have been 52 new cases since 8 June, differently from travellers from the USA or Brazil where infections continue to soar. Given that we will need to be able to manage the changing risk of COVID-19 from different countries for some time to come, setting up a sustainable and agile framework that can be adapted quickly is extremely important.
175.However, we also note the warnings from public health experts in countries like New Zealand and Singapore that are continuing to take a much more restrictive approach to international travel, and who advised against mass-market travel in Europe this summer. We consider in the next section the reintroduction of quarantine for Spain and the criteria for exempting countries. However the travel corridor list is constituted, it is clear that Government must have a system in place for robust surveillance and assessment of any increasing risk in countries where travel corridors have been agreed so that they can be swiftly suspended if necessary to prevent the virus spreading again, and to prevent deeply damaging consequences for both public health and the economy.
176.We welcome the Government’s commitment regularly to review its border quarantine regulations. The move to weekly and daily reviews of travel corridors is welcome as three-weekly reviews were not sufficiently frequent. Far more frequent review appropriately reflects the agility required to prevent a rise in importations. We recommend that the Government publish the methodology and findings of its reviews by means of a statement to the House, and on gov.uk when the House is not sitting. Given the likely increase in travel during the summer holidays, public health surveillance is particularly important for those countries where passenger numbers are highest. The Government should therefore make clear in its statements what criteria it is applying to assess possible risks, the relative weighting of those criteria, and on what basis changes to travel corridors are made.
177.According to the First Minister of Scotland, in early July, at the time when travel corridors were first introduced, the estimated prevalence rates of COVID-19 calculated by the Joint Biosecurity Centre were 28 per 100,000 population for Scotland, 180 per 100,000 population for the UK as a whole, and 330 per 100,000 population for Spain. The First Minister suggested that Spain was on the Joint Biosecurity Centre’s unpublished ‘amber’ list, but this was not confirmed.
178.At around the same time, it was reported by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control that the number of reported cases (as distinct from the estimated prevalence rate) was 3.8 per 100,000 population for Spain, and 8.5 per 100,000 population for the UK.
179.In the week ending 12 July, it was reported by the Agència de Salut Pública de Barcelona that confirmed cases in the city had more than tripled from 157 to 496 since the previous week. On 11 July, a local lockdown was announced in Lleida, a city in the west of Catalonia, the first since the raising of the national state of emergency on 21 June.
180.In oral evidence to the Committee on 15 July, the Home Secretary was asked about arrangements for passengers from Spain in light of recent reports of rising numbers of cases there:
Chair: Given that people are booking their holidays at the moment and that the number of cases in Spain seems to be rising, I would have thought that, actually, people would have a right to know whether the Joint Biosecurity Centre’s assessment is that they are rising up close to the threshold or that, alternatively, Portugal’s cases might be falling down towards the threshold. If people are making big financial decisions about booking holidays, or travel agents are booking things, surely they have a right to know the scientific bases on which you the Government are making such crucial decisions?
Home Secretary: [ … ] For travel advice, people go to the usual place, which tends to be the Foreign Office. Of course, there are other areas—obviously through the JBC, and obviously through Public Health England. That information helps to inform the decisions that the Foreign Office takes on travel advice. But let’s not forget the engagement with the carriers and travel agencies—that all takes part through the Department for Transport, which is absolutely the right and proper approach.
On 20 July, the Scottish Government announced that quarantine rules would be lifted for Spain from 23 July “following a thorough review of infection prevalence rates”. Those rates were not included in the announcement.
181.On 29 July, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control produced the following chart for reported cases per 100,000 population in European countries:
Figure 5: COVID-19 14-day case notification rate per 100,000
It showed elevated numbers of cases in the Catalonia, Navarre and Aragon regions of Spain but that the majority of Spain, including the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands, had case notification rates below 20 per 100,000 population.
182.On 24 July, Estonia, Latvia, Slovakia, Slovenia and St Vincent and the Grenadines were added to the list of travel corridors with effect from 2 July. Spain remained on the list of travel corridors. The following day, on Saturday evening, it was announced by the Department for Transport and Foreign and Commonwealth Office that Spain had been removed from the travel corridors list, effective from midnight, in all four nations of the UK. Therefore, quarantine for travellers from Spain was re-imposed in Scotland just two days after it had been lifted. The announcement stated that:
The Joint Biosecurity Centre together with Public Health England have updated their coronavirus assessments of Spain based on the latest data. As a result, Spain has been removed from the lists of countries from which passengers arriving in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are exempted from the need to self-isolate.
The date of the next review was not included in the announcement and, at the time of writing, the Government advice remained that “countries and territories can be taken off or added to this exempt list at any time”.
183.The decision to remove Spain from the list of travel corridors followed “a significant change over the last week in both the level and pace of change in confirmed cases” in Spain. The Spanish Health Ministry reported on 24 July that the weekly cumulative incidence (the number of cases diagnosed in the preceding seven days, per 100,000) had reached 23.37 in the whole of Spain, up from 12.11 the previous week. The highest incidence rate was found in three Spanish regions, Aragon (160.16, up from 76.10) Navarre (79.18, up from 28.28) and Catalonia (63.14, up from 37.52). By contrast, the rate remained low in other Spanish regions, including the Balearic (3.48) and Canary (4.41) Islands.
184.Reacting to the UK Government announcement, the Spanish Foreign Minister, Arancha Gonzalez Laya, urged the UK Government to take account of this variation:
At the moment our dialogue efforts are focused on excluding from the quarantine measures of the Balearic and Canary Islands.
This is for two reasons—number one these are islands, very safe territories; number two, their epidemiological data is extremely positive and well below the epidemiological data in the UK.
185.Other national Governments have changed their guidance on travel to Spain, adopting both regional and national approaches. For example, on 24 July, the French government advised its citizens not to travel to Catalonia, and the Norwegian government re-imposed a 10-day quarantine on returning travellers and visitors from all of Spain.
186.At the same time as the travel corridor was suspended by the Department for Transport, the FCO changed its travel guidance for Spain, advising against all but essential travel to mainland Spain and removing it from the exempt list. FCO guidance kept the Balearic and Canary Islands on the exempt list of destinations on the basis that they “no longer pose an unacceptably high risk for British travellers”. Therefore, as of 26 July, British travellers were not advised against travel to the Balearic and Canary Islands but were nevertheless subject to quarantine requirements on their return to the UK.
187.Explaining the apparent discrepancy between Department for Transport and FCO guidance, the Government’s announcement stated that FCO travel advice “is based on the risk to the individual traveller and COVID-19 infection rates are lower [in the Balearic and Canary Islands] than mainland Spain,” whereas “self-isolation arrangements are put in place on the basis of risk to the UK as a whole”. On 27 July, the Balearic and Canary Islands were removed from the FCO exemption list. All non-essential travel to Spain, including the Balearic and Canary Islands, was therefore advised against from this date.
188.The decision to reintroduce quarantine for Spain, announced with no warning on a Saturday evening, was strongly criticised by industry representatives with the British Chamber of Commerce warning that the “abrupt” decision “will be yet another hammer blow for the fragile travel and tourism industries”. The International Air Transport Association warned that “a unilaterally decided blanket quarantine order for everybody returning from Spain does not accurately reflect the risk of a regional spike in one corner of the country”. Tour operator Tui announced on 27 July that it had cancelled all mainland Spanish holidays until 9 August.
189.Media reports demonstrated concern and confusion from holiday makers in Spain, particularly about the unexpected requirement to quarantine on return and the possible loss of pay this entailed. People quarantining on return from Spain are not currently entitled to Statutory Sick Pay unless they live with a symptomatic person.
190.In response to criticisms, Downing Street told media that “no travel is risk-free and disruption is possible. Anyone travelling abroad should be aware that our travel advice and exemption list is under constant review as we monitor the international situation.” The Foreign Secretary added that “we are changing the rules—the law is changed in relation to holidaymakers and travellers—and of course we expect employers to show those employees who will have to quarantine because of the law the flexibility they need.” On 29 July, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport told Sky News that people should continue to book holidays but “need to be aware of the risk that quarantine could be imposed.” He added:
I do genuinely understand people’s anxiety and frustration about it and, believe me, from friends and family and people I meet on the street, everyone is asking this question.
Inevitably what we have to do is analyse the situation in countries around the world. Where we feel there is too high a degree of risk—where the incidence of the disease is rising in another country and we risk that import—we have to take measures.
191.As we made this Report on 30 July, no other countries had been removed from the travel corridors list. It was reported that travel corridors with Belgium, Luxembourg and Croatia were being considered for suspension. As of 30 July, the 14-day cumulative number of COVID-19 cases in each country per 100,000 population was 31.8 (Belgium), 240.6 (Luxembourg) and 23.8 (Croatia). The UK’s rate was 12.4 per 100,000 population.
192.Given the surge in confirmed COVID-19 cases in mainland Spain and the clear and rising risk of increasing numbers of people returning to the UK with COVID-19, a precautionary approach including quarantine for returning travellers is the right one. As we have set out in Chapter 1, the consequences of not introducing quarantine for Spain and then France in February and March were very serious for public health and, as a result, the economy. It is important and welcome that the Government has learned from what happened earlier in the crisis and is responding now to prevent imported cases rising.
193.However, this has undoubtedly been extremely difficult for many travellers who paid for holidays in Spain following the FCO and DfT guidance in the expectation that they would be able to return to work, caring responsibilities, medical appointments and family events on their return, which will now be impossible. Many will face significant financial difficulties as a result of losing pay. Such sudden changes in policy make it even more difficult for businesses in the travel industry which are already under huge pressure. Given the continued risk from COVID-19 and the pace at which it can spread, travel corridors can only work as part of a plan to control the virus if they can also be lifted swiftly based on data when cases rise. However, the Government needs to be much more sensitive to the serious consequences for families and businesses of changing policy with no warning in this way. There should be significant changes to the way such decisions are handled and communicated.
194.The Government has rightly warned now that “no travel is risk free”. However, stronger warnings should have been given at the time the travel corridors were first introduced in early July. The Government’s mixed messages at that time were regrettable. In the case of Spain, it appears from the First Minister of Scotland’s statements that the Joint Biosecurity Centre had already concluded that prevalence rates there were significant higher than in the UK at the time when the travel corridor was established—but that information has not been published. It should have been, both so that individual travellers could be aware of the risks and so that the decision to include Spain at all could be scrutinised. The Government should publish these prevalence rates now and explain why Spain was included on the travel corridors list.
195.Evidence has also been growing for some weeks of new outbreaks in Spain, which we raised with the Home Secretary in the middle of July, to give the Government some more opportunity to provide cautionary advice or warning for people looking to book last-minute holidays. The disruption to travel plans and surprise caused by removing Spain from the travel corridor list demonstrates how essential it is that surveillance data is shared with the public openly and frequently. Potential travellers must be presented with the risks of travelling, even to countries on the travel corridor list, while the pandemic is ongoing and the guidance is liable to change at short notice. We urge the Government to publish the details of its traffic light system to distinguish between high-risk (red), medium-risk (amber) and low-risk (green) countries, and how different countries are currently categorised on that system, so potential travellers can assess the level of risk attached to their chosen travel destinations, and to whether quarantine rules might change.
196.Greater clarity would also be helpful on the Government’s overall objectives for its border measures and travel corridors as part of their wider strategy against COVID-19, including how it is balancing public health and economic considerations. We heard significant warnings from public health experts in Singapore and Hong Kong that Europe’s attempt to restart mass market travel and cross border tourism this summer was a mistake and would make it harder to suppress the virus or as a result return to near normal in other sections of the economy. The Government should therefore explain its strategy, including its different objectives on suppressing the virus and opening up the economy, and how it believes its border measures and the current expected level of cross border travel contribute to those objectives.
197.In a written ministerial statement on 6 July, the Secretary of State for Transport set out the process informing the introduction of travel corridors:
The Joint Biosecurity Centre, in close consultation with Public Health England and the Chief Medical Officer, has developed an approach to assessing the public health risk associated with inbound travel from specific countries and territories. The categorisation has been informed by an estimate of the proportion of the population that is currently infectious in each country, virus incidence rates, trends in incidence and deaths, transmission status and international epidemic intelligence as well as information on a country’s testing capacity and an assessment of the quality of the data available. Data has been used from official sources in each country and modelling by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, as well as from Public Health England and the National Travel Health Network and Centre. Other data sources may be used in the future.
This categorisation has informed the Government’s decisions about relaxation of border measures and has allowed us to establish travel corridors through which passengers arriving in England from certain countries and territories will be exempted from the requirement to self-isolate.
198.The Joint Biosecurity Centre sits within the NHS Test and Trace Service in the Department of Health and Social Care. It is not clear how it relates to SAGE which is notably not mentioned in the Transport Minister’s statement.
199.The analysis underpinning the approach taken by the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) has not been published, but the appropriateness of its categorisation has been challenged. For example, analysis by The Daily Telegraph found that 100 countries not included on the DfT exemptions list had lower rates of COVID-19 prevalence than some countries that were on the list. The paper took the example of Luxembourg, which is on the list, despite having a higher infection rate than Portugal, which is not. The Telegraph observed that Thailand, with a reported infection rate of 0.02 cases per 100,000 population is not exempt from quarantine measures.
200.It is difficult to assess the accuracy of this report without seeing the details of the JBC’s analysis. Beyond early July prevalence rate figures for Spain, Scotland and the UK quoted by the First Minister of Scotland, no other Government estimates of prevalence rates in other countries have been published. It is possible that, in some cases, countries have been considered for inclusion on air corridor lists for reasons other than simply their COVID-19 prevalence: for example, if they host a large number of UK residents’ second homes or are relatively safe and popular holiday destinations. It is not possible to be certain where this is the case, or what weighting is given to non-epidemiological factors, while JBC data remain private.
201.In addition to concerns about the approach taken by the JBC, questions also remain about the scientific evidence and advice informing the Home Office’s assessment of the threat posed by imported cases. In oral evidence on 15 July, we asked the Home Secretary for the Home Office’s latest estimate of the number of arrivals in the country with COVID-19, the proportion of arrivals in the country with COVID-19, and the proportion of cases in community circulation that had resulted from importation. While the Home Secretary could estimate that the number of people arriving into the country per day was 50,000, she said that the Home Office did not have an estimate for the number of those people who could have COVID-19 and that “it was difficult to get accurate information”. She reiterated the importance of the proportion of overall cases in community circulation (the 0.5% figure) to the Government’s assessment of risk.
202.In the same evidence session, the Permanent Secretary told us that
That number continues to be up to 0.5%, so it is a refreshed number. It happens to be the same upper limits as the number from 23 March, but it is refreshed advice from SAGE.
SAGE had previously taken the view that such calculations were now not possible. The minutes of its 28 April meeting state “it is impossible to estimate the number of cases which may be imported and their proportion of the total.”
203.We asked the Home Secretary whether she was familiar with the estimate of the prevalence rate for COVID-19 as expressed by the First Minister of Scotland. She told us that “the data is not in the hands of the Home Office; that is now in the hands of the Department of Health” which “would look at that data and aggregate it, and it would work with the Department for Transport”. When asked why the Government had not published the JBC’s assessment for Portugal, which was not included on the travel corridors list, the Home Secretary told us that “That is not for me to publish [ … ] It would be for the Department of Health, with Public Health England, to organise that.”
204.In a response, dated 17 July, to a Written Parliamentary Question of 5 May requesting that the Department of Health and Social Care provide breakdowns of prevalence rates for highly-affected countries and regions over the first quarter of 2020, the Government said that “Public Health England does not hold prevalence rates or R rates for international countries.” This is an alarming response for two reasons: first, the terms of the Question do not specify Public Health England, and as the JBC is answerable to the Department of Health and Social Care through its being part of NHS Test and Trace, any response to this question could reasonably be expected to account for the data held by the centre; second, if it is true that no estimates were being made of R rates or prevalence rates during January to April of this year, this indicates a worrying gap in the UK’s intelligence about the risk of importations of the virus and of its general spread.
205.We do note, however, that the Question requests data from January to April 2020 and the JBC was formally established in May; it is therefore possible that data from May onwards does now exist and is held by a body answerable to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. It has not been possible to request further information via a supplementary Written Question between the Government’s original answer being provided and the Committee’s issuing of this Report.
206.The creation of a Joint Biosecurity Centre ought to represent a step forward in the management of the pandemic, establishing clear responsibility for regular surveillance of travel risks from different countries and publishing clear and transparent analysis, including of international prevalence rates. It should also be responsible for assessing the combined public health impact of all the border measures including assessments of the number of people likely to be arriving with COVID-19. However there has so far been a concerning lack of transparency about the analysis produced by the Joint Biosecurity Centre as even basic assessments of prevalence rates have not been published.
207.The Government’s historic inability to convince the Committee of the credibility of its calculations of the numbers of people who have come into the UK carrying COVID-19 does not inspire us with confidence about its ability to assess the scale of the risk from likely infectious people coming into the country in the future.
208.We are concerned that Ministers do not seem to have access to information about prevalence rates internationally, and there is confusion about what information is held by the Department for Health and Social Care, as well as the interaction between different agencies including Public Health England, NHS Test and Trace and the Joint Biosecurity Centre and SAGE. We urge the Department to clarify responsibilities and establish a process for greater transparency from this point on.
209.As we set out in the first chapter, transparency and trust are crucial in public health crises. That is why the Government must now ensure that the analysis behind the introduction of quarantine rules and the introduction of travel corridors is all published—including JBC assessments of the prevalence of COVID-19 in different countries, and the Government’s overall estimates of the number and proportion of people arriving in the UK who are likely to have COVID-19.
210.We raised concern in the first chapter about lack of clarity over departmental responsibilities and decision. There still appears to be confusion between different departments and some inconsistency in the decisions they are making. The Government’s travel corridor guidance notes that “the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) continues to advise against non-essential international travel, except to countries and territories exempt from advice against ‘all but essential’ international travel”. The FCO’s list of exempt countries is not identical to the Department for Transport’s list of eligible travel corridors. Analysis by The Independent found that 48 countries and territories appeared on both lists, but a range of territories—mostly smaller island territories—have not been included on the FCO list. These include British Overseas Territories such as Anguilla and the Cayman Islands, as well as the Faroe Islands and Mauritius. Full Fact, an independent fact-checking charity, reported on disparity between advice from the FCO and from the DfT. They noted that on 9 July the FCO had tweeted that “We would not seek to enforce self-quarantine after 10 July”. However, Department for Transport guidance states that “if you arrived back in England before 10 July 2020, you should follow the self-isolation rules that applied at the time you arrived”: any new arrivals in England after that date from approved travel corridors would not be required to quarantine, but those arriving on 9 July would be still be required to comply with quarantine regulations for 14 days, even beyond 10 July. As discussed at paragraphs 186 and 187, this lack of clarity endured into late July, when the Department for Transport introduced a quarantine requirement for arrivals from the Canary and Balearic Islands at the same time as the FCO decided they should continue to be exempt from its general advice against all but essential travel. Given our concern that lack of clarity over ministerial responsibility for COVID-19 border decisions was detrimental to Government policy making in March, we have sought again to clarify where departmental leadership lies with regard to border measures now.
211.A number of Government departments and agencies have responsibility in this area: on 22 May, the Home Secretary announced the introduction of the border quarantine measures that would come into effect on 8 June; the Department for Transport is responsible for the travel corridor list; the FCO provides travel advice including recommending where is safe to travel; and the Joint Biosecurity Centre and Public Health England, responsible to the Department of Health and Social Care, appear to conduct assessments of the risk of inbound travel from particular countries.
212.We asked the Home Secretary what role she had had in decisions around travel corridors, and particularly what role she might play in decisions to remove countries from the travel corridor list (for example, Spain). She told us that she “would not be involved in setting a threshold or putting Spain back on the quarantine list” and that this was a “cross-Governmental decision led by the Department of Health and Public Health England”. Data they would consider was “provided by the Joint Biosecurity Centre and is not in the hands of the Home Office”. She added:
[ … ] public health safety is absolutely paramount. That is why a range of measures, since March onwards, have been put in place to protect the British public and public health. That has been at the forefront of everything this Government has done. For travel advice, people go to the usual place, which tends to be the Foreign Office. Of course, there are other areas—obviously through the Joint Biosecurity Centre, and obviously through Public Health England. That information helps to inform the decisions that the Foreign Office takes on travel advice. But let’s not forget the engagement with the carriers and travel agencies—that all takes part through the Department for Transport, which is absolutely the right and proper approach. We have always said this; I have now made this point many, many times over recent months. This is cross-cutting across Government, but individual Government departments have certain responsibilities—whether on data, on carriers, on engagement with other countries, or on travel corridors, which have obviously come together in recent weeks through the Department for Transport. Those Departments take the lead on those particular areas.
213.On 27 July, the Daily Telegraph reported that the decision to reintroduce quarantine arrangements for Spain was taken by the COVID-19 Operations Committee chaired by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and attended by the Foreign Secretary, the Transport Secretary, the Health Secretary, the Home Secretary and the Chief Medical Officer, among others.
214.It is not clear exactly which Government department or agency is ultimately responsible for coordinating border policy. Evidence from the Home Secretary suggested important roles for the Department of Health and Social Care, Public Health England and the Department for Transport as well as the Home Office and Border Force. Given that the Home Secretary announced the border quarantine policy it was surprising to discover that she did not expect to be involved in the decisions on travel corridors and that the Home Office wasn’t briefed on prevalence rates for different countries. While it is appropriate that all Departments carry out work within their remit, good coordination and some overall leadership is required for border policies to work coherently. Otherwise, there is the potential for confused policy-making and contradiction between Government departments, like that shown by the inconsistency between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for Transport on travel advice. This would likely reduce public confidence in the measures as they are introduced, and as they vary. We note that the COVID-19 Operations committee appears to be taking the decisions on border policy and we welcome a cross-Government process to coordinate different departments and ensure that decisions are consistent, and evidence based. However, it still resulted in different advice emerging from the FCO and DfT, and it remains unclear which Department retains lead responsibility for border policy. One accountable Department should be clearly charged with lead responsibility. We believe that should either be the Cabinet Office or, as the Department with overall responsibility for border operations, the Home Office.
215.It is concerning that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for Transport have issued contrasting advice to the public on more than one occasion, at a time when providing clarity about the new travel corridors and nurturing confidence in them is of great importance. The Government must ensure that its communications are consistent and accurate across all departments. We recommend that one department leads on communications in this matter, and works constructively with other departments and associated bodies, such as public health authorities, to make sure all appropriate guidance and advice is clearly reflected. The Government must review differences between Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice and Department for Transport air corridor countries as an urgent priority, with a view to reconciling discrepancies. Where those departments are not able to agree, the Gov.uk website should clearly explain why this is the case in order to allow would-be travellers to make informed decisions before using travel corridors.
216.We are concerned that there is not total agreement between all four nations of the UK over which travel corridors should be implemented. While we respect that matters of public health are devolved, we encourage the UK and devolved governments to work more closely together to ensure there is a single, four-nations approach to measures at our border. Disjointedness risks deepening damage to the aviation industry and inhibiting public confidence. It is, however, notable that the First Minister of Scotland has quoted figures from the Joint Biosecurity Centre, to explain the decisions her Government had made to extend, or refuse, travel corridors. The UK Government should do the same.
217.Before arriving in the UK, travellers are required to complete a Public Health Passenger Locator Form, including their passport details, travel itinerary, and the address where they will stay in the UK. Those required to self-isolate are advised to “go directly to the place where you will self-isolate—avoid public transport if possible”. Guidance states that:
In England, if you do not self-isolate, you can be fined £1,000. If you do not provide an accurate contact detail declaration–or do not update your contact detail form in the limited circumstances where you need to move from the accommodation where you’re self-isolating to another place to continue self-isolating–you can be fined up to £3,200.
218.In its initial announcement of the measures on 22 May, the Home Office confirmed that “public health authorities will conduct random checks in England to ensure compliance with self-isolation requirements”. The announcement elaborated on the nature of spot checks:
Border Force will undertake checks at the border and may refuse entry to any non-British citizen who refuses to comply with these regulations and isn’t resident in the UK. Failure to complete the form is also punishable by a £100 fixed penalty notice. Public health authorities will conduct random checks in England to ensure compliance with self-isolation requirements. Removal from the country would be considered as a last resort for foreign nationals who refuse to comply with these public health measures.
219.On 10 July, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) reported that “up to the 22 June, no fines were issued by territorial forces in England and Wales for breaches of the requirement to quarantine following international travel”. DCC Sara Glen, NPCC lead for Charging and Out of Court Disposals, said:
Enforcement of this regulation is important in reducing the spread of infection and to enable effective contact track and trace processes to take place. We are grateful to the public for following these measures.
At the first stage, quarantine contact will happen via public health officials. Police forces will be contacted for further investigation if there is a concern that someone isn’t sticking to the rules. We will make visits to the nominated address given by a passenger and if we are satisfied that the rules are being adhered to, the matter can then be resolved.
220.Data has not yet been released on how many spot checks have been carried out, nor on how many persons have been required to quarantine in total. The House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, in its report on the English Regulations, noted that “the EM [the Explanatory Memorandum for the Regulations] provides no detail about how compliance with these requirements will be checked”, and that the Department for Health and Social Care had told them that “levels of checking will be sufficient to ensure compliance and may vary at different times and different ports.” Responding to a written parliamentary question on 6 July, the Minister for Crime and Policing said that “an ad hoc statistical release on ‘Health Measures at the Border’ will be published imminently pending ministerial review.”
221.In oral evidence, on 15 July, the Home Secretary was able to offer a preview of these statistics. She told us that, as of 15 July, “the number of people coming into the country each day is approximately 50,000”. 383,000 spot checks had been carried out between 6 June and 12 July; the majority of these had been at the border. The Home Secretary told us that compliance checks within the community were carried out by Public Health England, based on information provided through the Passenger Locator Form. She reported an overall compliance rate of 99.9%, and that three Fixed-Penalty Notices had been issued. As the NPCC reported that no Fixed-Penalty Notices had been issued before 22 June, these must have been issued between 22 June and 15 July.
222.The compliance rate provided (99.9%) appears to be based on the percentage of the 383,000 total compliance checks that have resulted in a Fixed-Penalty Notice. If this is the case, it is likely unreliable. First, most of the checks are at the border, despite the greatest quantity of compliance being required in the community where there have been fewer checks. Second, the policing strategy relating to the quarantine measures is the same strategy as applied throughout the pandemic, the “four Es”. Under this strategy, which the Committee reported on in March, enforcement is the last “E”—a last resort—following engagement, explanation and encouragement. It is therefore not necessarily the case that the total number of Fixed-Penalty Notices issued under the Regulations represents the total level of non-compliance; it represents only those who were spot-checked and for whom the first three “Es” were not sufficient to achieve compliance. Moreover, escalation to police level is not immediate: an individual would first need to be subject to a spot-check from Public Health England; then arouse enough suspicion from Public Health England to be reported in for triage; and then visited by the police who would adopt the “four Es” strategy. Even if compliance with the measures is high, it appears highly unlikely that it would be as complete as 99.9%.
223.The Government’s estimate of compliance with its enforcement regime for border quarantine is unconvincing. That the estimate is so high should be grounds for healthy cynicism and interrogation. A better method for estimating the true compliance rate is required, based on routine publication of the following figures:
This will allow oversight of the entire process. These data should be published fortnightly, to mirror the work undertaken by the National Police Chiefs’ Council to publish fortnightly totals of the number of Fixed-Penalty Notices issued under lockdown Regulations.
224.Effective quarantine arrangements require high levels of voluntary compliance, even more so when enforcement is limited. The suddenness and lack of transparency behind the decisions about Spain may have consequences for enforcement if travellers remain sceptical about the policy or face financial pressures as a result of not being able to return to work as planned. It is important for Government to build confidence in the decisions it has taken and the justification for them, and also to make sure that people can afford to comply.
225.Border measures need not necessarily be limited to 14-day quarantine for all arrivals. For example, arrivals in Hong Kong are all tested for COVID-19 and quarantined until they receive a result, which is usually the same day. In Iceland, arrivals at its main international airport are given the choice between a 14-day quarantine or undertaking a COVID-19 test. Icelandic residents who opt to take a test are required to take ‘special precautions’ for five days before undertaking a second test to ensure that they are not infected. Special precautions are:
However, it is permitted to use public transport, drive, go shopping, and meet friends and family in groups smaller than 10 provided they are not vulnerable.
226.Data on flights from destinations is compiled by the Civil Aviation Authority and published monthly. Combining this data with JBC assessments of prevalence rates in different locations allows for an assessment of how many people arriving from destinations might be infectious. This could allow the Government, in due time, to target specific destinations and flights for testing on arrival such as in Hong Kong, should it be impossible to provide such a system for all arrivals. If Government is working closely with airlines and airport authorities, as the Home Secretary suggested in oral evidence it was, it could even be possible to agree protocols for receiving data at a flight-by-flight level with which to inform decisions about testing at the border. We recognise that reports suggest a relatively high rate of false negative results from COVID-19 tests; however, testing at the border would also allow for stronger quarantine arrangements for those testing positive.
227.Border quarantine restrictions are likely to remain in place for some time, particularly if there is now emerging agreement that cases of COVID-19 could increase in the winter months. The UK’s approach to its borders will have to become more flexible in order to respond rapidly to the contours of the pandemic. We recommend that the Home Office, in coordination with the Department for Transport and Department for Health and Social Care, investigates urgently the viability of introducing widespread and targeted tests at the border, as in Iceland, Hong Kong or South Korea. Now that testing capacity in the UK has increased, the Government should be ready to learn from other countries and should examine what role testing or screening could play, including the ability to target particular flight routes. We agree with the Government that a testing and tracing system alone is not currently enough to address the importation risk from overseas travel, especially from high-prevalence countries like Brazil and the USA. However, the Government should look at international examples and develop testing further. It should assess what role testing could play alongside quarantine and travel corridor measures. This could require close coordination with airports and others to access flight and route-specific information over and above what is readily available.
228.SAGE first concluded on 28 January that there was no reason to suspect that healthy individuals arriving from high-risk areas posed any greater risk to frontline Border Force staff than other individuals. However, if these individuals or any others might have been infectious at the point of arrival—or if any other arrivals during this period were potentially infectious—then it is reasonable to presume that there might have been some increased exposure risk to staff interacting with these arrivals. The Committee asked officials from the Home Office what arrangements were in place to protect Border Force officers, including provision of PPE. On 18 March, the Border Force Chief Operating Officer Emma Moore told us that:
The PPE we have is quite limited and that is actually on purpose. The approach we have taken very early on, up to now, has been using PHE guidance to inform scenario-based circumstances with which our staff may come into contact, so particular tasks they are doing in different environments. The very lowest level, as the Government advice has been, is to make sure that you practice good hygiene and wash your hands. Having alcohol-based hand gel on every single passport desk is an example. We have gloves available. There is very specific guidance as to when they should be used, as well as masks.
229.Angela Perfect, Border Force’s COVID-19 Incident Gold Commander, added that:
PPE is available at the ports. It has not been issued to every individual staff member but it is available at the ports, and we are ensuring that guidance is updated to staff, supporting them in the discharge of their duties and following PHE guidance in that respect.
230.In written evidence to us in April, the Immigration Services Union expressed concern that availability of basic PPE and guidance in using it remained lacking. While nitrile gloves were able to all staff “as part of business as usual”, there was “very limited information provided on how to put them on, how often to change them, how to remove them safely or how to dispose of them”. The ISU also noted that some areas had reported difficulty in obtaining stock of hand sanitiser, particularly at night or on weekends. Difficulties with PPE were exacerbated by the variation in working environments, which varied from “a Perspex ‘box’ entirely separated from the traveller” to “no physical desk at all”, and therefore could require different levels of provision. Concerningly, the ISU told us that on 21 April managers told Border Force officials that they could no longer wear masks “as a national corporate line”, with ISU members reporting that wearing a mask could make them “subject to disciplinary action”. The ISU did note however that Border Force followed the advice of PHE and the WHO that masks are not effective protection outside a clinical setting. Since this time, Regulations made by the Government now require the wearing of face coverings by passengers on public transport and in shops. The wearing of face coverings is recognised as a helpful mechanism to slow the spread of virus.
231.The new border measures require a higher level of interaction between arrivals into the UK and Border Force staff, particularly those who might be required to assist arrivals to complete a Public Health Passenger Locator Form on a tablet device at ports of entry. While guidance allows for hourly cleaning of such devices, the ISU report that staff have “expressed considerable concern … that the high level of serious usage placed both travellers and staff at increased risk of transmission”. The number of these interactions will increase as quarantine measures lift or are relaxed to extend travel bubbles to a limited number of countries.
232.As passenger numbers rise and interactions between Border Force officers and arrivals increase, it is crucial that there are no lapses in PPE availability for officers on the frontline who have worked admirably in difficult conditions for several months. The Government owes it to hard-working officers to ensure that they are protected and feel safe so they can continue in their duties. As part of each review of border quarantine measures, Border Force and the Home Office should conduct a reappraisal of the appropriate level of PPE that should be provided for Border Force officials, and a nationwide assessment of stock levels to ensure that staff have everything they need.
233.Concerns about provision of PPE to key workers have been a recurring theme during the COVID-19 pandemic. We understand that Border Force’s provision of PPE to its staff has been based on PHE and WHO advice. However, Border Force officials must be able to feel safe while carrying out their vital work in particularly difficult conditions. This should include wearing masks where staff feel safer doing so.
234.Given the widespread concern about the potential for a second wave, and for a rising number of infections toward and during winter, it is likely that some form of border quarantine mechanism will be required for the foreseeable future to avoid the possibility that imported cases and strains could compound these challenges. Professor Teo Yik-Ying predicted that Singapore would maintain border restrictions at least until 2021.
235.Implementing border quarantine measures over any time frame is indeed disruptive. However if applied swiftly, relaxed appropriately, and justified properly using the full range of scientific evidence available, evidence from other countries demonstrates that they are an effective tool to assist in keeping COVID-19 from spreading into countries with a relatively low level of infection. We have concluded that the UK’s experience of COVID-19 has been far worse as a result of the Government’s decision not to require quarantine and thus reduce the number of imported strains during March.
236.Keeping measures in place while closely monitoring travel corridors and other exceptions will be important to ensure that the UK does not reimport unmanageable levels of COVID-19. This is particularly important when there is doubt about the affordability—both economically, and in terms of goodwill—of a second national lockdown, and when seasonal pressures on the NHS begin to build over the autumn and into the winter months. In a situation as fast-moving as the COVID-19 pandemic, any delay in controlling new infections can have profound consequences; it is therefore of paramount importance that the Government reviews its border measures weekly and is able to respond quickly to changing patterns of infection, including by introducing further restrictions if needed. We do not take lightly the potential burden on individuals and the economy from closing borders and requiring quarantine, as well as the potential damage to the economy and to public health if the virus takes hold again; we also recognise that it can only be one strand in a wider, larger strategy of disease control. However, border health measures must form a crucial part of any Government strategy to obtain and maintain control of the virus over the months to come.
146 Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies, Minutes of twenty-ninth meeting relating to COVID-19, 28 April 2020
147 Gov.uk, ‘’, 10 May 2020
148 HM Government, Our Plan to Rebuild: The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy, May 2020
149 Home Office, , 22 May 2020
150 World Health Organisation, Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): Situation Report 140, 8 June 2020
151 Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 (); Health Protection (Coronavirus) (International Travel) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 (); Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) (England) Regulations 2020 (); Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) (Wales) Regulations 2020 ()
152 Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 (), regulation 4; Health Protection (Coronavirus) (International Travel) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 (), regulation 9; Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) (England) Regulations 2020 () regulation 4; Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) (Wales) Regulations 2020 (), regulation 10
153 Schedule 2 in respect of each of the regulations in the previous footnote
154 [Quarantine: coronavirus], 8 July 2020
155 HC Deb, 3 June 2020, [Commons Chamber]
156 European Commission, ‘’, 11 June 2020. Because of the UK’s imposition of a 14-day quarantine period for inbound travellers, France decided that, even though they would not be subject to entry restrictions as per the European Commission’s recommendation, travellers from the UK would be “ invited to observe a fortnight on their arrival”: see French Ministry of the Interior, ‘’, 13 June 2020
157 European Commission, ‘’, accessed 21 July 2020
158 Algeria, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Japan, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, Rwanda, Serbia, South Korea, Thailand, Tunisia, Uruguay and China (subject to confirmation of reciprocity); Council of the European Union, Council Recommendation on the temporary restriction on non-essential travel into the EU and the possible lifting of such restriction, 30 June 2020
159 On 16 July the list was updated to omit Serbia and Montenegro; Council of the European Union, ‘’, 16 July 2020
160 Coronavirus Disease-19, Republic of Korea, ‘’
161 Singapore Ministry of Health, ‘’, 15 June 2020
162 New Zealand Immigration, ‘ ’
163 Tony Smith CBE ()
168 Transport Committee, Second Report of Session 2019–21, The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the aviation sector, HC 268, para 27
172 Immigration Services Union (), para 7
173 Immigration Services Union (), para 7
174 Immigration Services Union (), para 11
175 Immigration Services Union (), para 11
176 Immigration Services Union (), para 9
177 Public and Commercial Services Union, ‘’, 16 June 2020
178 Public and Commercial Services Union, ‘’, 16 June 2020
179 The Times, ‘’, 16 June 2020
180 Immigration Services Union (), para 13
183 HC Deb, 26 June 2020, [Commons written ministerial statement]. Throughout our inquiry this targeted relaxation has been referred to variously as air bridges, air corridors, and travel corridors. For the purposes of this report we adopt the latter term.
184 The Telegraph, ‘’, 10 July 2020; HC Deb, 26 June 2020, [Commons written ministerial statement]
185 Department for Transport, ‘’, published 3 July 2020 (accessed 12 July 2020)
186 Sky News, , 30 June 2020; Financial Times, ‘UK to begin dismantling its quarantine policy’, 2 July 2020; The Times, , 27 June 2020
187 Ministry of Health of the Czech Republic, , 22 June 2020; Hungarian Government, , 12 July 2020; Kingdom of Belgium, , accessed 27 July 2020
188 [Travel Corridors], 7 July 2020
189 Department for Transport, ‘, 3 July 2020
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191 BBC News, ‘’, 8 July 2020
192 Scottish Government, ‘’, 20 July 2020
200 Office for National Statistics, ‘’, 29 November 2019
209 Department for Transport, 24 July 2020
210 Foreign and Commonwealth Office, (accessed 30 July 2020): “We are monitoring the international situation very closely and keeping this advice under constant review so that it reflects our latest assessment of risks to British people.”
211 Scottish Government, ‘’, 20 July 2020
212 Scottish Government, , 8 July 2020
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215 CNN, , 4 July 2020
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219 Gov.uk, , 25 July 2020
220 Gov.uk, , 25 July 2020
221 Gov.uk, , 25 July 2020
222 Department for Transport, , 3 July (updated 28 July)
223 Gov.uk, , 25 July 2020
224 Government of Spain, Ministry of Health, , accessed 28 July 2020; Government of Spain, Ministry of Health, , accessed 28 July 2020
225 The Telegraph, , 26 July 2020
226 The Telegraph, , 25 July 2020
227 Foreign and Commonwealth Office, , accessed 27 July 2020
228 Gov.uk, , 25 July 2020
229 Foreign and Commonwealth Office, , accessed 28 July 2020
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231 Financial Times, , 29 July 2020
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234 Financial Times, , 29 July 2020
235 Evening Standard, , 28 July 2020
236 Birmingham Mail, , 29 July 2020
237 The Times, , 30 July 2020; The Telegraph, , 28 July 2020
238 European Centre for Disease Control, , 29 July 2020
239 [Travel Corridors], 6 July 2020
240 Daily Telegraph, ‘’,7 July 2020
241 Oral evidence taken on 15 July 2020, HC 561,
242 Oral evidence taken on 15 July 2020, HC 561,
243 Oral evidence taken on 15 July 2020, HC 561,
244 Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies, Minutes of twenty-ninth meeting relating to COVID-19, 28 April 2020
245 Oral evidence taken on 15 July 2020, HC 561,
246 [Coronavirus: Disease Control], 17 July 2020
247 Department of Health and Social Care, ‘’, 5 June 2020
248 BBC News, ‘’, 5 July 2020
249 The Independent, ‘’, 7 July 2020
250 Full Fact, ‘’,10 July 2020
251 Department for Transport, ‘’, published 3 July 2020 (accessed 12 July 2020)
252 Home Office, , 22 May 2020
253 Department for Transport, , 3 July 2020
254 Oral evidence taken on 15 July 2020, HC 561,
255 The Telegraph, , 27 July 2020
256 Department of Health and Social Care, , 6 July 2020
257 Home Office, , 22 May 2020
258 National Police Chiefs’ Council, , 10 July 2020
259 National Police Chiefs’ Council, , 10 July 2020
260 House of Lords, Eighteenth Report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, Session 2019–21, Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) (England) Regulations 2020, HL Paper 78, para 8
261 [Coronavirus: Quarantine], 8 July 2020
262 Oral evidence taken on 15 July 2020, HC 561, ff
263 College of Policing, , 7 July 2020
264 Government of Hong Kong SAR, ‘’, accessed 22 July 2020
265 Government of Iceland, ‘’, 2 June 2020; Government of Iceland, ‘’, 10 July 2020
266 Civil Aviation Authority, ‘’
269 Immigration Services Union ()
270 Immigration Services Union (), para 13
Published: 5 August 2020