politics

Grant Shapps gets UK Covid-19 travel restrictions wrong amid fury over U-turn


The travel industry said the new rules forcing travellers to take a test before departing for the UK will be ‘devastating’ – while Labour said they came too late

The Transport Secretary got mixed up when announcing a U-turn over pre-departure tests
The Transport Secretary got mixed up when announcing a U-turn over pre-departure tests

The Tory Transport Secretary got his own Covid travel rules wrong for more than two hours as he announced new laws that have infuriated critics on both sides.

Grant Shapps tweeted last night that all inbound travellers would have to take a pre-departure test “within two days of their arrival in England.”

But that would have meant taking a pre-departure test post-arrival.

After about two hours, Mr Shapps deleted the tweet and posted a corrected one, which said passengers must take a text “up to 2 days before departure to England”.

It comes after U-turn which has infuriated both the travel industry, which said there will be “livelihoods devastated by the lack of coherent plans”, and Labour which said the tests were introduced too late.

New Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh added the mix-up was “utterly, embarrassingly shambolic”.

She added: “The Secretary of State for Transport is tweeting the wrong advice.

“Tests must be taken up to 48 hours PRE-departure (the clue is kind of in the name).”

She later added: “Took @grantshapps 2.5 hours but he got it right eventually.”

Labour today accused the Government of being “very late in making the calls that are required to keep our borders safe” after the U-turn.

Mr Shapps initially stopped short of reintroducing pre-departure tests to tackle the Omicron variant. Instead travellers to the UK were told to take a single test within 48 hours of arrival and isolate until it came back negative.

In a podcast released on Thursday, Mr Shapps suggested reintroducing pre-departure tests could “kill off the travel sector again”.

But the move was backed by Labour and the SAGE group of scientists, which warned pre-departure tests “are valuable in identifying potentially infectious people.”







All passengers arriving in the UK will have to take a pre-departure test before they set off
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Image:

NEIL HALL/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

And last night ministers announced passengers arriving in the UK will have to take a pre-departure test before they travel.

The move will apply to all those aged 12 and over from 4am on Tuesday.

Mr Shapps insisted his earlier remarks about pre-departure tests were pre-recorded “earlier in the week” – on Wednesday.

Shadow Environment Secretary Jim McMahon told Sky News: “It was the Labour Party who were calling for pre-testing to take place because we’re very concerned that the Government, consistently throughout the pandemic, have been very late in making the calls that are required to keep our borders safe, very late in terms of trying to control the spread of that virus.

“What we want to do is to make sure that we don’t jeopardise the vaccination rollout.

“The worst thing in the world after all the sacrifices that we’ve made is that a new variant comes in and completely takes the rug from under that programme, so it’s very important the Government get a grip, it’s very important the Government takes swift action.”

The travel industry reacted with fury.







A nurse swabs the throat of a traveller as he administers a COVID-19 test in Heathrow Airport
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Image:

LHR AIRPORTS LIMITED/AFP via Get)

Business Travel Association chief executive Clive Wratten said: “The introduction of pre-departure testing with little warning is a hammer blow to the business travel industry.

“Public safety is a priority, but businesses will fail, travellers will be stranded and livelihoods devastated by the lack of coherent plans from government.”

Airlines UK boss Tim Alderslade said: “It is premature to hit millions of passengers and industry before we see the full data.

“We don’t have the clinical evidence. These measures must be removed as quickly as possible in line with the speed of the booster programme.”

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab defended the switch, claiming the Government “always get the Goldilocks criticism of too much, too little”.

He added: “I know that is a burden for the travel industry but we have made huge, huge strides in this country.

“We have got to take the measures targeted forensically to stop the new variant seeding in this country to create a bigger problem.

“We have taken a balanced approach but we are always alert to extra risk that takes us back not forward.”

Labour today warned “sky-high” prices are being inflicted on travellers for PCR tests with many charging more than £100.

Ms Haigh said: “Unscrupulous private providers are pocketing millions, and leaving many families forced to shell out huge sums.

“Ministers are sitting on their hands while people who want to do the right thing are paying the price for this broken market.”

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