A DEMAND for Home Secretary Priti Patel to appear before Parliament to explain why she has taken so long to impose quarantine measures at UK airports has been made by SNP MP Joanna Cherry.
The UK Government is expected to announce today that people arriving into the UK will be quarantined for 14 days but Cherry, who has been calling for action for weeks, is demanding to know why Patel has been so slow to act.
Last month it was revealed that up to 15,000 passengers are flying into the UK every day without being checked.
In the first three months of this year, only 273 people out of around 18 million arriving into the UK were quarantined, with the UK Government’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, admitting the UK “got imports” of coronavirus during this period “from all over the place”.
Now, just as countries around the world are beginning to ease quarantine on new arrivals, the UK is expected to start a crackdown – prompting an outcry from the aviation industry over fears this will devastate the sector and the wider economy.
Ports and Eurostar will also be subject to the quarantine measures that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce today.
Key workers, lorry drivers bringing in imports and travellers from Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands will be exempt, according to UK Government sources. Anyone found to be breaking the quarantine could face fines of up to £1000 or possibly even be deported.
The new measures are expected to last all summer – squashing any lingering hopes that holidays abroad might be possible before the autumn.
Cherry said Patel should appear before Parliament tomorrow to explain why action was only being taken now after so many thousands of people had been allowed to arrive unchecked from virus hotspots around the world.
The SNP’s shadow home secretary has repeatedly called on her to introduce urgent health measures for people travelling to the UK – including quarantine measures at the border – in line with other countries.
Last month, the Edinburgh South West MP wrote to the Home Secretary raising concerns about her failure to act, allowing hundreds of thousands of people to enter the UK without any checks whatsoever in the months since the pandemic began.
“Following news reports that the UK Government may at some point in the future introduce some of the health measures I have been calling for, the Home Secretary must come before Parliament on Monday to make a statement setting out exactly what is being proposed, when it will come into force, and why it has taken until now to be implemented,” said Cherry.
“It is deeply concerning that the Home Secretary has taken so long to act – and allowed thousands of people to enter the UK without appropriate checks or measures in place.
“Other countries in Europe and across the world introduced these measures months ago. The UK Government has been far too slow to act and must now explain why it has taken until now to step up to prevent increased risk of transmission.”
Scottish Greens co-leader Alison Johnstone MSP echoed Cherry’s concerns. “Isolating incoming travellers for 14 days is one of the most basic health protection measures to aid in reducing the spread of the virus,” she said. “I’m frankly astonished that it has taken the UK Government so long to introduce this measure at a time when they should be taking every action possible to prevent the spread of the virus, protect people and save lives.”
Quarantine measures on arrivals from abroad were introduced weeks ago by many countries, while people arriving in the UK were not even subject to temperature checks.
Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said people returning to the UK were given no information on what measures they should take on their return to keep their families safe. “The wider public are really worried about it and for weeks we’ve had mixed messages being briefed out of government,” she said.
Previously, Ryanair and BA parent IAG indicated they were planning to restart flying from July, but IAG chief executive Willie Walsh has now said BA will not start re-flying if the quarantine measures are introduced.
Huge redundancies have already been made across the sector, including at BA, and aviation bosses claim the quarantine measures will be a “death blow”.
They are due to be announced by Johnson at 7pm tonight as part of his “roadmap” for easing the lockdown south of the Border.
Rafael Schvartzman, regional vice-president for Europe at Iata, said the measures would have a “profound negative impact” both on air transport and the UK economy.
“Other countries around the world are starting to consider how their restrictions could be phased out to help restart the global economy. Imposing a 14-day quarantine now sends a signal that the UK is moving in the opposite direction,” he said.
Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators’ Association, said it would “not only have a devastating impact on the UK aviation industry, but also on the wider economy”.
She said airports could not “survive a further protracted period without passengers that would be the result of quarantine measures”.
Tim Alderslade, of Airlines UK, said the sector would be asking for assurances that the decision was science led and the UK Government had a credible exit plan.