International Travel - Statement

– in the House of Lords at 1:30 pm on 9th September 2020.

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The following Statement was made on Monday 7 September in the House of Commons.

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about international travel corridors.

In June, 14 days’ isolation was introduced for travellers arriving in the UK, with a small number of workers’ exemptions. This action has helped to ensure that the sacrifices of our nationwide lockdown were not wasted, and it has played a part in keeping our infection rate lower than elsewhere. At the same time, we set up the Joint Biosecurity Centre and tasked it with pulling together intelligence in order to assess the risks of inbound travel from hundreds of territories. By July, the Joint Biosecurity Centre’s analysis helped to inform our decisions to establish travel corridors, meaning that people could return to the UK from low-risk countries without quarantine.

Of course, we all know that this dreadful disease takes instructions from no one. Even with our increased understanding about how Covid preys upon and capitalises on close human contact, we can still be taken aback by its speed of transmission, whether at home, through the imposition of local lockdowns, or abroad, where a country suddenly sees infection rates take off. I am the first to admit that the unpredictable nature of the virus can take us all, holidaymakers included, by surprise. As I landed in Spain on my family holiday, I was immediately joining a ministerial call during which I helped to impose 14 days’ quarantine on Spain, thereby effectively terminating my break—but more importantly, sadly, disrupting the holidays of tens of thousands of Brits in Spain and elsewhere. I know how distressing this has been—but I also know that the hard-won gains from the earlier days of this crisis must not, cannot and will not be sacrificed. Ministers will continue to take proportionate action informed by JBC analysis.

During July and August, we did not have the means to accurately assess risks within countries and within regions. The kind of comprehensive Office for National Statistics data that we now have through their testing was never available overseas, and it was too easy for the virus to migrate between regions without borders or boundaries. However, as JBC resources have strengthened, we have been able to collaborate much more closely with other Governments and their health authorities. This has led to a more forensic picture. Now, for the first time, we are able to consider a granular approach to assessing detailed data abroad. I have looked at whether this means that we can implement regionalised systems for international travel corridors, but in many cases the international data is still simply too patchy, and in all cases there is next to nothing to prevent people from moving around within a country’s border.

People will rightly point out that infection rates also vary across the United Kingdom—indeed they do—but the difference is that all the countries we are talking about have, by definition, higher rates of infection than we do. I hope the House understands that the JBC and the Government are therefore at present unable to introduce regional travel corridors from within the geographical boundaries of a nation state.

However, where a region has natural boundaries, such as an island, the risk diminishes significantly, and that presents us with a real opportunity. Our passenger locator form, combined with NHS Test and Trace, will, and has started to, give us a clear picture of exactly where infections are coming from. As a result, I can today announce a new islands policy. For the first time, we have the data and the capacity to add and remove specific islands from quarantine, while still providing maximum protection to the UK public.

There are thousands of islands across the globe—far too many for JBC to monitor on a detailed level—but it may assist the House if I outline the four guiding principles that we intend to apply. First, the regionalised approach can only apply to land that has clear boundaries or a clear border—in other words, an island. Secondly, the data collected must be robust, reliable and internationally comparable. Thirdly, the island must have direct flights from the UK, or at the very minimum, transport must be able to take place through quarantine-exempt territories. Fourthly, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office travel advice should align as far as practicable with the policy.

The JBC methodology for islands that I have described has been developed in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer and Public Health England. This new capability means we will now be able to nuance our decisions, first and foremost to safeguard the health of British citizens, but also to enable British tourists to enjoy trips to islands, even if the mainland is deemed too risky. However, it is worth noting that the policy will not necessarily open up additional islands immediately. For example, when we removed Spain from the travel corridor list, there were 24 cases per 100,000 people. Today there are 127 cases per 100,000, and the rate remains too high in the Balearic and Canary islands as well.

On the other hand, Greece remains within our travel corridor programme, but our new analysis shows that some of the islands are well outside the parameters. Indeed, despite overall Greek infection levels being lower than ours, Scotland has already felt compelled to add the entirety of Greece, including the mainland, to the quarantine. However, using our newly acquired JBC data, we are now in a position to remove Greek islands where holidaymakers are at risk of spreading new infections back home. Seven Greek islands will therefore be removed from the travel list at 4 am on Wednesday 9 September, while mainland Greece will be maintained.

I thank our medical experts, who have forged these professional relationships and improved capacity. However, I want to make one thing clear: travelling during coronavirus is not without risk, so those who do so should please go with their eyes open. Remember that breaching quarantine is not only an offence that can gain you a criminal record, but you are also putting the lives of your loved ones at risk, as well as the loved ones of those you have never met before.

I know there is considerable interest across the House on testing at borders to see whether we can remove the necessity to self-isolate at all. It sounds completely logical, yet, as the Chief Medical Officer reminds us, it simply will not capture most of those who are asymptomatically carrying coronavirus. As you know, Mr Speaker, those who are symptomatic should not be travelling in the first place.

The point was brought home to me in a conversation with the head of one of Britain’s major airport groups. He decided to trial airport testing for himself and a group of eight returning holidaymakers. They all tested negative. After a week in quarantine, they took a further test and one of their group was positive. This illustrates PHE’s point that, due to the incubation period of this disease, and even using highly accurate tests, the capture rate of those carrying Covid-19 may be as low as 7%, leaving 93% of people who are infected free to go about their business, more likely—most likely, under those circumstances—in the misguided belief that they do not carry coronavirus.

However, quarantine combined with testing is more promising. We are therefore working actively on the practicalities of using testing to release people from quarantine in fewer than 14 days. For the reasons described, this could not be a pure test-on-arrival option, which would not work. However, my officials are working with health experts with the aim of cutting the quarantine period without adding to the infection risk or infringing our overall NHS testing capacity, which now also needs to cater for schools going back and universities returning. The islands policy becomes active immediately, and I will of course update the House on quarantine testing in the coming weeks. I commend this Statement to the House.”

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow Minister (Transport) 1:31 pm, 9th September 2020

My Lords, the announcement that the Government can now implement quarantine policies for passengers from specific islands, rather than whole countries, begs one question above all others: why only now? The Government’s quarantine policy has been beset by the same question from the outset. We are still yet to hear why they introduced quarantine only in June, after 22 million people had come into the country. For months, even when the virus was at its peak, millions entered the UK without any restrictions or any contact tracing system in place. Even today, we remain in the dark as to whether it is operating as it should be. Can the Minister detail how many calls contact tracing services have made in relation to positive cases linked to flights over the last month? How many fines have been handed out for non-compliance with quarantine rules? And how many people have had a positive Covid-19 test result after returning from overseas travel?

The general policy of air bridges has the support of these Benches, but it can only be as one part of the strategy to prevent infections in the UK. There is not an individual intervention that will suffice, and only a combination of smart, targeted measures will do. The shadow Secretary of State for Transport has repeatedly called for a review of the broader quarantine policy to report as soon as possible. This must consider options for a robust testing regime in airports and related follow-up tests that could safely minimise the need for 14-day quarantine. Until this takes place, it is clear that the Government are not doing all in their ability to beat the virus and safely reopen society, while protecting jobs and the economy. At the very least, it would be helpful to understand whether these policies are even under active consideration. In this regard, can the Minister confirm when SAGE last discussed airport testing, and what is the latest update on the SAGE paper on airport testing?

With the announcement of the islands policy, the Government have also placed a series of Greek locations on the quarantine list. Can the Minister confirm whether the Government will publish the evidence and criteria by which locations are included on the quarantine list? With regard to the wider list, can the Minister explain how the UK Government have arrived at a different conclusion from those of the Welsh and Scottish Governments in relation to Portugal?

At a time when the aviation sector is struggling, perhaps more than any other, it would be remiss of me to not mention the impact of government policy on the industry. Can the Minister detail what assessment she has made of the financial implications of the travel quarantine measures on the aviation sector? In recent months, we have seen airlines time and time again announce plans to make significant percentages of their workforces redundant. The pain felt as a result will not be limited to those directly impacted. The consequences for the wider supply chain will no doubt cost further jobs. Poorly handled quarantine policy has only made matters worse for the 1.5 million workers across the supply chain, while the unwillingness of the Government to announce a sector deal suggests indifference.

There must be a sector deal to save airlines and support airports, and this must be based on Labour’s six conditions: it must save jobs, tackle climate change, not condone tax avoidance, not condone dividends at the expense of business viability, support UK suppliers and support consumer rights. The industry is waiting. It is now almost six months since the Chancellor first promised an aviation sector-specific deal in mid-March. Just as the quarantine policy has taken many months to emerge, the response to the aviation industry is taking even longer. Can the Minister finally confirm when the Government are going to give a financial support package to the aviation sector as the Chancellor promised in March?

Regrettably, the Statement fails to answer many more questions than it addresses. It is vital that the Government get to grips with the situation, and this can be done only with a comprehensive review of the quarantine policy as soon as possible. At this crucial point in the pandemic, it is beyond belief that there has still been no real consideration for a proper testing regime at airports and related follow-up tests. Passengers and the aviation industry need confidence that Ministers are not simply making it up as they go along. They will not have received that from today’s Statement.

Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport)

My Lords, I am glad to see this small step forward towards a more logical approach to quarantine. I am particularly pleased that the Government are looking at testing combined with shorter quarantine, although news of problems with the Test and Trace system does not convince me that it will be introduced effectively and soon. However, I hope we are seeing the signals of a less chaotic approach from the Government and fewer U-turns, because we are still suffering, as a nation, from the Government’s inexplicable decision to abandon testing and quarantine for returning travellers back in March, which meant that tens of thousands of people entered the UK unchecked from areas which had higher infection rates. Clearly, many of them brought their infections with them.

My first question to the Minister relates to the reference in the Statement to FCO advice. Can the Minister explain why there would ever be different quarantine advice from the FCO and DfT? I realise there was at one point, but that was put right within 24 hours or so. I am asking this question because there are clearly insurance implications for travellers if there are two conflicting sets of advice from the Government.

There is nothing in the Statement about the timescales between the regular quarantine announcements, which usually are made on Thursday—although one was made on Monday this week—and the imposition of quarantine, which is normally at 4 am on a Saturday. Would it not be possible to extend this period to give travellers abroad longer to pack their bags, buy a new ticket and make their way back to the UK? Most travel, certainly holiday travel, tends to be from weekend to weekend. If the Government were to act slightly sooner, it would give people longer. If you think back to the situation in France, which is a country many people drive to on holidays, many people who were in the south of France found it physically impossible to get back to the UK, even if they could get a ticket for a ferry or the tunnel. They could not drive back through France safely to get to the UK before the quarantine was imposed. The tight timescale has done a lot to add to the overall nervousness about foreign travel.

Finally, I want to talk about the situation in aviation as a whole, which, as a sector, is struggling. Airports, in particular, are struggling and time is running out for some of our smaller airports. They do not have major foreign backers, like some airlines. Some are local authority-owned. Many are owned, in effect, by pension funds. You can mothball planes but you cannot mothball airports. For safety reasons, they have to maintain many staff and many of their operations, even when they have few paying customers. For instance, they must have all the experts on site to be able to host emergency flights and landings—for air ambulances, for example.

Unlike restaurants, airports have had no package of measures targeted specifically at them. Unlike restaurants, they have huge capital investment. I urge the Government to devise some tailored help for this beleaguered industry and to do it soon. One example would be relief from business rates for airports in England, so that they come into line with Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is irrelevant in Wales because the Government own the airport. They need this tailored help soon. The opportunity is there for the Government to ensure that the aviation industry becomes more environmentally friendly, because they can put conditions on their help. They can make sure that the development of airports in the future is much more environmentally friendly than it is at this moment. They can do that as a condition of their help. I urge the Minister to consult her colleagues and to announce something soon.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 1:42 pm, 9th September 2020

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for their contributions to a small but very important change to our international air travel corridors. The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked “Why now?”, with the implication that this could have been done sooner. It could not. The Government have had to put infrastructure in place to deal with challenges that previously were simply not under consideration. As well as putting the infrastructure in place, we had to get the data.

When we first announced the imposition of the 14-day quarantine period—the self-isolation period—at the same time we set up the joint biosecurity centre. This important group brings together intelligence from across the UK and from abroad. It has been able to build up its resources, particularly its skills and expertise in assessing the risk of inbound travel, which historically had not been a massive feature for government, nor was it required to be so. The building up of these resources in the joint biosecurity centre means that we have a much better ability to analyse the vast quantities of data we are getting, both domestically and from overseas.

The joint biosecurity centre carries out an assessment on countries and now it will look at individual islands as well. Various things go into the assessment. The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked what the criteria were for inclusion on the list. If I could set out the criteria and percentages, or the various hurdles, for each one included on the list, that would be very simple. However, it is slightly more complicated than that because it is a combined assessment of all sorts of different factors—the estimate of the currently infectious percentage of the population of the country or island, virus incidence rates, trends in the incidence rates, hospitalisations and, sadly, deaths. Other factors include transmission status, testing capacity in a country or island and the quality of the data. All those things are built up and put together to form a picture of whether a country or island should be included on the list. We have got to the stage where we can do this now and we are able to include islands.

The noble Lord went on to ask how many people coming from overseas travel have had a positive test. I do not have that data to hand. Of course, it is the case that people have had positive tests when they have come from overseas travel. That is why it is clear that the self-isolation policy needs to be in place. People need to fill in the passenger locator form when they arrive in the country. I can tell the noble Lord that, to date, 4,154 cases of failure to fill in the PLF have been referred to the police. Fines have also been issued to people who failed to self-isolate. Slightly more seriously, and it should be recognised by all those who have attempted not to self-isolate, one could get a criminal record if one does not self-isolate. I suspect that that simply is not worth it.

I turn now to airport testing, which is incredibly important. If we can reduce the 14-day self-isolation period, using any means possible, it would be in everybody’s interests that we do so. I assure the House that this is under active consideration by the Government. PHE is looking at the evidence and emerging data, and this is developing over time. The first pass through airport testing showed that the capture rate for asymptomatic testing at airports on arrival was just 7%. That is barely worth doing. There are other things that we could do but we must reassure ourselves first that they will be robust and will enable us to both reduce the time in self-isolation and protect our loved ones from people who may be at a higher risk of having coronavirus.

The noble Lord also mentioned the differences between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. I have said before at the Dispatch Box that health policy is devolved. It is disappointing when there are differences, but we must reflect and respect the agreements reached for the devolved nations. They are perfectly capable of reaching their own conclusions, albeit sometimes on the same set of data. This also demonstrates how subjective some of the data, and its interpretation, is. Therefore, it is not the case that there can be hard targets for countries to be in or out of an international travel corridor.

I turn now to the impact on aviation. As a former Aviation Minister, I am well aware of the impact on aviation. To date, the sector has used a large amount of the support that the Government have already put in place. For example, the sector has used £1.8 billion from the Bank of England’s CCFF scheme, £283 million from the job retention scheme, and 56,400 staff were furloughed over time. The department is actively discussing what aviation recovery looks like and what additional regulatory or financial help can be put in place. It is a picture that is moving over time. There is a spending review coming up, which will be an opportunity to look at all sorts of different interventions, if they are deemed appropriate.

Over the summer, having had to cancel two holidays and rebook them, I found that the airlines are adapting. It gives people much more confidence to travel if they have the flexibility to cancel a flight and rebook it. Certainly, with the two airlines I dealt with, both things happened relatively easily. I am really pleased to see that the travel market is beginning to respond to the new world. The number of flights is currently down by about 60%, and loads are at around 65%. There is a long way to go to full recovery, but we are not still in those dark days where there were almost no planes in our sky.

I turn to additional questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, about the travel advice. The FCDO advice will align from now on with the international travel corridors. I recognise that there was time when there was a misalignment. That was not helpful, particularly as they were announced at slightly different times. I think the Government learned from that and we will make sure that we align from now on, if we possibly can.

The noble Baroness also mentioned the timing of the announcements. To a certain extent we have previously been lulled into a false sense of security of “Oh, it’s Thursday. Let’s look out for the tweet from the Secretary of State and then we’ll know what’s going to happen the following weekend”, yet this week we saw something different. The timing of announcements will vary, and we must not think that they are on a weekly basis in all cases. My message to all travellers is they must accept that nowadays travelling is not without risk. If one cannot take the risk of being forced to quarantine on return, it is perhaps better to stay in the UK for holidays for the time being. There is also the argument that the travel industry is doing whatever it can to help. There is a balance to be reached. Passengers must have their eyes open and fully understand the risk that travel advice may change at any time.

I go back to the intention of the Statement. It is good that we have been able to isolate islands and we will focus very much by prioritising work on the islands to which UK citizens most frequently travel, because clearly there are a number of islands that people are very keen to get back to soon.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, we now come to the 20 minutes allocated for Back-Bench questions. I ask that questions and answers are brief so that I can call the maximum number of speakers. The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, was not present for the start of this item of business so I call the noble Lord, Lord Singh of Wimbledon.

Photo of Lord Singh of Wimbledon Lord Singh of Wimbledon Crossbench 1:51 pm, 9th September 2020

My Lords, while I have some sympathy with the Government in trying to combat a unique and deadly threat to life, jobs and the economy, the constant changes of direction in dealing with the virus, like the constantly changing numbers for who can meet and in which circumstances, are causing bewilderment and confusion. Consistency inspires confidence. Covid-19 is a global pandemic and, while we should try to keep our little bit of the world as safe as possible, the virus does not respect national boundaries and much greater co-operation with the devolved regions is necessary in policies. It is the same with our relationship with our neighbours in Europe to increase the efficacy of air bridges and corridors. Holidays abroad are nice, but they should not be at the expense of elderly and vulnerable groups on return home. There is a strong case for banning air travel for holiday purposes until the virus has been much better contained. In the immediate future those trapped by newly imposed quarantine restrictions on their return home should not be penalised in salary and wages. Stricter controls on air travel would undoubtedly increase hardship for those in the travel industry, and the Government should be generous and compensate—

Photo of Baroness Penn Baroness Penn Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

Will the noble Lord put a question to the Minister, please?

Photo of Lord Singh of Wimbledon Lord Singh of Wimbledon Crossbench

Will the Minister consider much better compensation for those in the travel industry and the operators of airports?

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

As I explained previously on the subject of support for the aviation sector, the Government are very cognisant of the impact on the sector. Historically, it has been a key contributor to our economic health and is good for our social well-being and for connectivity within our nation. The Government are doing a huge amount to look at connectivity within the four nations and between the different regions of the UK and beyond. We will work with the aviation sector as it develops new ways of working to make sure that we can capitalise on the economic recovery when it comes.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

Short questions will enable more noble Lords to be called in this session. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie.

Photo of Baroness Goudie Baroness Goudie Labour

My Lords, international travel is a great thing. We should encourage it, at least in normal times and with proper respect for the environment. However, at this time, we must think not only of those who are able to and those who do not travel abroad but of all those within these islands. They must be protected from infections coming from abroad. There must be testing at airports. If 77% are reliable, that is far from being enough. There must be second testing. Testing is vital. It needs to be at airports worldwide, and we should lead this initiative. I ask the Minister to take this forward.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

As I previously mentioned, the Government are taking this forward as quickly as we can. We need to be assured of the evidence and to make sure that, if there is testing not only at the airport but at any border into the country, it is efficacious and does the job. At the moment we are not there, but I reassure the noble Baroness that we are looking at it. Obviously we would like to put it into place as soon as possible, but we will not do so unless it will make sure that our citizens remain safe.

Photo of Baroness Doocey Baroness Doocey Chair, Finance Committee (Lords), Chair, Finance Committee (Lords)

Does the Minister acknowledge that while international travel is something of a roulette, the Government should do everything possible to encourage a renaissance in domestic travel in the UK? The Government’s tourism industry body VisitBritain is forecasting that inbound tourism revenue will be down by £24 billion this year, which equates to about 340,000 jobs, half of which will be in London. What specific measures will the Government put in place to support London’s tourism sector, which is so reliant on inbound tourism?

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The noble Baroness is right that London is very reliant on inbound tourism, as are many other major cities across the country. The Government are well aware of this and there are a number of conversations going on at the moment which are looking at potential solutions, not only for London but on a nationwide basis for the larger population hubs to ensure that people can travel safely. Within all this we have a very difficult balance between keeping the virus under control, making sure that people can travel safely and protecting jobs and the economy.

Photo of Lord Davies of Gower Lord Davies of Gower Conservative

My noble friend the Minister has already alluded to the disparity that has emerged between Her Majesty’s Government and the devolved nations in respect of countries identified as being on a warning list for potential travellers and those returning to the UK. Does she agree that this has caused immense confusion and anger among those affected? There are now reports of complications for the public in that, in the devolved nations, travel insurance for cancelled holidays may not be honoured. What can the Government do to assist?

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

Travel insurance is a private matter between the company and the individual, but it cannot be stressed enough that people should check the terms and conditions of their travel insurance before they travel so that they have the right level of coverage. As I mentioned earlier, many travel companies are being more flexible, so travel insurance is not needed as much for some as it was previously. On the point made by my noble friend about the confusion about the devolved Administrations, I beg to differ slightly because everybody across the country has to be more alert now. Things are going to be different in different places in the country. We have seen that in Bolton, Wales, Scotland and Manchester. People in general have to be more alert. While we sit as a national House and look beyond that and think it must all be terribly confusing, I am not sure. If you are an individual in Bolton, for example, you know what you have to do because you should read about the restrictions that have been applied there and respond according. It is every citizen’s responsibility to know what they can or cannot do. Things will change; we cannot stop them changing, because the evidence changes so our advice will change.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Labour

My Lords, I associate myself with other noble Lords calling for proper provisions for the aviation and aerospace sector. These latest constraints will sadly affect it. Does the Minister not agree that effective testing at airports, plus a follow-up a week later, would catch most cases coming into the country, and that this would be far more enforceable than 14-days’ quarantine for everybody who comes into our country?

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I agree that if we could assure ourselves that that sort of regime would work, we would put it in place. But as I have said in response to previous questions, this work is ongoing, and we will not put anything in place unless we are sure that what we are putting in place will work.

Photo of Viscount Waverley Viscount Waverley Crossbench

My Lords, calling on my experience of being denied boarding my flight from Istanbul for my journey to Portugal this weekend, due to my not having an in-date Covid test result, I am now a firm advocate of such a system being used at UK airports. Quick results are now possible, as illustrated in a well-run operation at Istanbul Airport, with 92% accuracy and five hours from test to a digital result being available. Would the Minister take note that it is not the testing procedure where the operation challenges lie but the bureaucratic handling of all the non-compliant passengers needing to reschedule flights, and who may not have a visa in place for the UK or enough funds to sustain themselves until such a connecting flight is available?

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, raises another important point about airport testing and the pre-testing that could be put in place. I am well aware that that is in place in certain countries across the world. The noble Viscount will also be aware that, in the summer, travellers to Greece were denied boarding because they had not filled in their Covid form, as required by the Greek Government 24 hours before arriving in the country. This serves to reiterate to all travellers two things: travel with your eyes open and travel with enough money. It is not as simple as it was before.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, I am glad the Minister mentioned travel to Greece. When I went to a Greek island in July, I had to prove I had completed the Greek version of the passenger locator form at check-in, at the boarding gate and on arrival in Greece. When I returned from Greece to the UK, and twice when I returned from Norway in recent weeks, I was not asked if I had even completed the UK passenger locator form at any stage of those journeys, let alone asked to produce it. Why are the Government not as serious about importing Covid-19 from abroad as the Greek Government? Before imposing further restrictions on the British public, should the Government not ensure that existing measures are operating effectively?

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

Our existing measures are operating effectively. I had the same experience as the noble Lord: I went through the Greek system twice over the summer, on two islands, and found it to be very different in both cases. I do not think there is any country we should hold up as a great way of doing things. However, we are very open to hearing about new approaches and evidence from other countries. As I said in answer to a previous question, Border Force does spot checks on people filling out the PLF and, as I said previously, 4,154 cases have been referred to the police.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative

My Lords, I welcome the two changes: introducing airline testing and extending the airline corridors to islands. Can my noble friend help me understand how the excellent work being done by the joint biosecurity centre can lead to three different results in three different nations of the UK? Also, is my noble friend as concerned as I am that the distance incoming passengers have to travel for subsequent tests, having had a test at the airport, could put passengers off? Will the Government address that, perhaps through a more mobile testing system? Is my noble friend aware that with imminent changes to airline schedules—the autumn and winter schedules come into effect at the end of this month—it is of the utmost importance to give longer than two or three days’ notice of any change to airline corridors?

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The international travel corridors are not just airline corridors; they are corridors for all modes. As my noble friend will know, to cope with current demand, airlines have been changing their schedules far more frequently than previously, which was twice a year. I am aware that there are small issues occasionally with Test and Trace, and of course we are working on those and looking to improve them where problems arise. We must remember that the vast majority of people are able to get tested very quickly and get their result very quickly. My noble friend also mentioned the devolved Administrations. I believe I have gone as far as I can on that one—it is up to the devolved nations to decide. Any interpretation of data is always going to be subjective and they have reached a different decision from the UK Government as it applies to England. UK citizens in the devolved nations, and indeed in England, need to be aware and understand that these things can change.

Photo of Lord Berkeley of Knighton Lord Berkeley of Knighton Crossbench

My Lords, I have two points. I commend the Government’s idea of testing people in quarantine to shorten the period, but following on from the previous speaker, how is that to be done if we are not to send people in quarantine out to testing centre, sometimes 50 miles away? Have the Government thought about how they will overcome that? Secondly, we have heard a lot about damage to the aviation industry and to tourism. As the Minister knows, there is also huge damage to the creative industries, which cannot manage tours. I realise that it is one step forward, but being forewarned is always a good thing. I encourage the Government to think ahead and talk to people representing the creative industries about how they might overcome this problem when things ease up a bit.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I know that my colleagues in the DCMS are well engaged with the creative industries and understand the challenges that they face. Certainly, as a roads Minister, I understand the knock-on impacts on, for example, the road haulage industry, which assists in putting on some of the big events. It has had a really devastating effect on those industries, and we are well aware of that. The noble Lord mentioned leaving home to get a test. Unless you get a home test, whether you have been travelling or not, and whether you are symptomatic or asymptomatic, you will probably have to leave your home to get a test. That is why the people doing the tests at testing centres have all the appropriate protection and therefore minimise the risk of transmission.

Photo of Baroness Meyer Baroness Meyer Conservative

My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s Statement, which is sensible and pragmatic, but I need to point out the following. When my husband and I returned from France on 27 August, despite all the care we had taken with social distancing and mask wearing while abroad, we were confronted with a chaotic situation at Heathrow T5. The many staff present made no effort to keep passengers apart, and indeed forced them into queues, where we were crushed together. If there were any need for us to quarantine, it would more likely be due to our experience of queuing at Heathrow than our time in France. Can the Minister therefore clarify who is responsible for maintaining social distancing at Heathrow and other airports? Why was this not done before, and will it be done now?

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

Responsibility for maintaining social distancing rests in the hands of the individual. We ask individuals to socially distance from each other, and I am sorry that my noble friend had that experience at Terminal 5. I did not have that experience at that terminal; I had a very smooth and clear journey through it. We are working with the airports to increase signage and to make sure that there is adequate communication telling people exactly what they should do. However, social distancing is now not a new thing for any of us, whether we are in an airport, on a bus or in a shop.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, has withdrawn. I call the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

My Lords, I have given the Minister notice of my question. If a person has knowingly contracted coronavirus while travelling overseas and, on return to the United Kingdom, breaches penalty-enforceable quarantine requirements—which we learn today could lead to a criminal record—and then transmits the disease to another person by leaving the place of confinement, could the person infected sue the communicator of the disease for damages? I have in mind the debate now going on in Florida, in the United States of America.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

Could that person sue the third person? I suppose that they could have a go. I am no legal expert, but one can imagine various challenges in proving that a person really did give the disease to another person and achieving any sort of compensation. However, I go back to what I said previously: breaking quarantine or self-isolation is a very serious matter and it should be treated as such. Individuals must understand that they risk getting a criminal record.

Photo of Lord Bilimoria Lord Bilimoria Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the time has come to very rapidly implement testing at airports? The ability to get quick results from mass testing at airports is available now. You could have a test, followed by another test five days later, and that would shorten the quarantine period. Furthermore, the Abbott Laboratories’ BinaxNOW test costs $5 and gives a result within 15 minutes. It is available in the United States now. Millions of these tests are being produced and I hope we will have them soon over here. What about countries with islands? In Greece, for example, people can travel to and from certain islands, but in the Maldives, a country that depends on tourism, the airport is on a separate island and infections are currently reported only in Malé, yet tourists are not allowed to go to the other islands without being quarantined.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I believe that I have mentioned airport testing a few times, so I will probably not rehearse that. However, the noble Lord raises an interesting point about the Maldives. There are four principles behind inclusion or otherwise of an island on the list. There have to be clear boundaries—that is, it has to be an island. The data available has to be robust, reliable and internationally comparable. The important point for the noble Lord is that there have to be direct flights or flights via a quarantine-exempt place. Therefore, if one is travelling from another island to Malé—on a boat perhaps—that might not be quarantine-exempt, and therefore the other outlying islands would not be exempt. For completeness, the fourth principle is that the FCDO travel advice should align.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

With apologies to the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, the time is up.

Sitting suspended.