Holidays abroad should be discouraged to stop Covid third wave, say MPs | Health policy

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Holidays abroad should be discouraged even once legal, a cross-party group of MPs have said as part of a suite of recommendations to prevent a third wave of coronavirus and further lockdowns.

Under the UK government’s roadmap to relax coronavirus restrictions, international travel for leisure purposes could resume from 17 May.

Ministers have confirmed that a traffic light system is to be put in place in which countries will be added to green, amber and red lists, with different rules regarding issues such as quarantine of returning travellers for each list.

On Sunday the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show that details of the traffic light system were “coming shortly”.

But on Monday the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus (APPG) issued a report recommending that holidays abroad should be discouraged in light of experts’ concerns about international travel.

“The UK government should discourage all international leisure travel to prevent the importation of new variants into the UK, in order to reduce the risk of a third wave and further lockdowns,” the report states, adding that financial support must be given to the travel industry. “This recommendation should be implemented immediately and reviewed on a quarterly basis.”

The SNP MP Dr Philippa Whitford, the group’s vice-chair, said: “Our cross-party inquiry has heard how the UK’s border management is acting more like a sieve than a shield in the fight against coronavirus. Ministers must act on these recommendations and learn from the mistakes made last year, when the premature reopening of international travel contributed to a second wave. With the threat of importing dangerous new Covid variants, we must not throw away recent hard-won progress made through the sacrifices and efforts of the public.”

At a hearing on 20 April a number of experts including Lucy Moreton, of the Immigration Services Union, and Deenan Pillay, a professor of virology at University College London, gave evidence to the APPG.

“Notably, of those witnesses questioned in the hearing, none were prepared to travel internationally in the near future,” the group’s report states. “Above all, the evidence makes clear that international travel poses a significant risk of the importation of new Covid-19 variants, which may in turn lead to further lockdowns, and inevitably, further loss of life.”

Among recommendations, the group advises that Covid security should be improved in arrival halls at all points of entry into the UK, including preventing the mixing of passengers from countries on the different traffic light lists, and that the government should not delay in adding countries to the red list.

The report also stresses the need for international standard for documents detailing results of Covid tests or vaccinations. According Moreton, more than 100 fraudulent Covid certificates are identified each day by UK Border Force staff, but typically only because of spelling mistakes.

Prof Rowland Kao, an epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh and member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, who was not involved in the report, said new “escape mutant” variants with the ability to infect people more easily or cause more severe illness posed the greatest threat to hopes of near-normal conditions for social and economic activity this summer.

“As the numbers of infections here go down, this is most likely to occur through the importation of variants from countries which have not yet been so fortunate,” he said.

A Labour spokesperson described the government’s record on border security against Covid as woeful. “Late to close borders, late to introduce testing requirements, a hotel quarantine system that has let through dangerous mutations and a test, track and isolate system not up to the task,” they said.

“The fact that India was only added to the red list last Friday – despite going through such a heartbreaking wave at the moment – shows how inadequate and dangerous the current system is.”

A government spokesperson said: “We introduced robust border controls to stop coronavirus variants in their tracks and every essential check we’ve introduced for arrivals has strengthened our defences against new mutations.

“As the UK unlocks domestically and with many British families spread far and wide, we understand that people may need to travel abroad for all sorts of reasons. But we can only permit it if it is done safely, which is why the global travel taskforce has produced the traffic light system allowing us to manage the risk from imported cases by varying restrictions depending on the risk of travel from a specific location.”

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Holidays abroad should be discouraged to stop Covid third wave, say MPs | Health policy

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