Home Affairs Committee chairwoman Yvette Cooper warned of “major gaps” in the travel testing regime amid fears over the Omicron strain
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The Government has been urged to reinstate pre-travel Covid tests immediately to contain the spread of the worrying new Omicron variant.
Home Affairs Committee chairwoman Yvette Cooper warned of “major gaps” in the travel testing regime – and accused the Tories of repeating the same mistakes.
Three cases of the Omicron variant have been confirmed in the UK, after it was first detected in South Africa this week.
Some 10 countries in southern Africa have been added to the travel “red list”, which means arrivals must spend 10 days in a Government-approved quarantine hotel.
Dutch health authorities said on Sunday that 13 cases were found among passengers on a flight from South Africa, as the new variant was detected in a number of countries.
Boris Johnson announced a package of new rules on Saturday to buy time for scientists who are racing to establish the extent of the threat from the new strain.
Face masks will be compulsory in shops from Tuesday, while contact of Omicron cases will have to isolate for 10 days regardless of vaccine status.
From 4am on Tuesday all international arrivals to the UK will have to take a gold standards PCR test – rather than a cheaper lateral flow – and isolate at home until they get a negative result.
But Ms Cooper said the Government needed to go further by also ordering travellers to have a pre-departure test.
Unvaccinated travellers must still do a test before they land in the UK but people who are double jabbed were exempted from those rules.
The PM has been previously criticised for being too slow to act over the spread of the Delta variant, which spread rapidly from India and is now the dominant strain in the UK.
Ms Cooper said: “Only reintroducing PCR tests after two days home isn’t sufficient as a precautionary approach as it leaves far too many gaps in the system.
“People can still travel on busy planes, wait in busy departure or arrival halls, then travel home on buses, trains or the tube, all without being tested at all.
“We know from previous waves and variants that the virus spreads via other countries and via indirect flights, not just directly from the countries most affected – which is why early testing from all countries is vital.
“But, once again, the Government seems to be leaving major gaps in the travel testing regime. They have done this too many times before and they mustn’t make the same mistakes again.
“They need to learn from what happened with previous waves and get comprehensive testing in place fast.”
The introduction of compulsory PCR tests was described as a “huge blow” to the travel industry.
Abta, a trade association for tour operators and travel agents in the UK, said the added cost of testing will hit customer demand for holidays, adding pressure to an industry which has been among the “hardest hit” during the pandemic.
The Government is expected to make an emergency statement to the Commons on Monday afternoon with more details on the plans.
Earlier, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said he hoped that tighter Covid rules would only be “temporary”,
“It’s important, I think, to act in a proportionate way and also in a temporary way,” he told Sky News’ Trevor Phillips on Sunday.
“I hope this is something that we can remove within weeks. But I do think in terms of making progress, we want life to go back towards normal, but at this point in time, given what we know about this variant, and the expert advice that has been received, I think it is right to take some proportionate and balanced action.”