UK Border: Covid Protections

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:36 pm on 26th January 2021.

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Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department 12:36 pm, 26th January 2021

Let me begin by saying that I welcome the hon. Gentleman giving us a chance to discuss these measures. He has also mentioned the police national computer, about which we will provide an update in due course; I can give him that reassurance.

There has been a comprehensive strategy across Government, and it dates back to 27 January last year. The hon. Gentleman will be fully aware and sighted of that. It started with travel advice from the FCO, followed by guidance from SAGE from 10 February last year. New statutory instruments, including regulations, were introduced, and there were new powers for the medical profession and the police to detain individuals carrying symptoms of coronavirus. Guidance was issued to airports in February last year around how to handle coronavirus, and there was a flurry of travel advice. That was supported by self-isolation measures and, in March, the Coronavirus Act 2020. There was a parcel of mandatory quarantine, passenger locator forms, shutting the border with Denmark when the new strain was identified, test and release, banning flights from South Africa, pre-travel tests and carrier liability.

This is a comprehensive approach and strategy. It is important to note that throughout, when it comes to coronavirus and measures at the border that involve other Departments, the measures set out have naturally come with logistical and operational challenges. I take this opportunity to thank our operational partners—our airports, in particular, and Border Force, which has been on the frontline day in and day out, checking passengers. I mentioned earlier the number of checks, and Border Force is now checking 100% of passengers arriving in the UK. We have the isolation assurance service, which is increasing the number of checks to 5,000 a day. The National Police Chiefs’ Council is already surging capacity to provide those checks.

The hon. Gentleman has referred to newspaper reports and speculation. It would be wrong of me to speculate about any measures that are not in place right now, as policy is being developed. He spoke about quarantining, and he claims that the Labour party has been calling for tougher restrictions. If I may say so, his party should reflect on its position. In August last year, the hon. Gentleman himself called quarantine “a blunt tool”. In July, the shadow Transport Secretary, Jim McMahon, said that quarantine measures should be “lessened”. In June last year, the Leader of the Opposition also said that the system was “a blunt instrument”.

Measures are always under review, and it is right that the Government review all measures. As I have said, we have a world-leading vaccination programme. We are proud of that programme, and the Government will do everything that they can to protect that vaccine from new strains of the virus.