The quarantine plan for people arriving in the UK is vital to prevent a second coronavirus peak, the home secretary has insisted as she prepares to face her critics in the Commons.
Ahead of a statement to MPs on the controversial policy, Priti Patel said “we will all suffer if we get this wrong” adding that tourism will recover faster if COVID-19 is kept in retreat.
Ms Patel has defended her plan in a Daily Telegraph article co-written with the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, amid claims the government is planning a retreat in the face of a growing Tory rebellion.
But at the same time, the ministers said they would review the quarantine policy – due to begin on Monday – “when safe to do so”, and suggested they may agree to “air bridges” between Britain and low-risk countries.
In a bid to reassure Tory MPs who are opposed to the quarantine plan, Ms Patel and Mr Shapps confirmed the government is working with the transport industry on agreements with other countries.
Defending the policy, the ministers wrote: “Self-isolation for those arriving is designed to prevent new cases being brought in from abroad and to prevent a second wave of the virus.
“Right now, airport COVID-19 tests or rapid temperature tests simply aren’t as effective. Infected passengers might not have any symptoms, and tests might not work as well if you’ve only just caught the virus.
“Which is why it is right that we ask those who are travelling to our country to follow the measures that our own citizens are undertaking to continue to stop the spread of the virus.
“As we continue to follow the rules designed to protect our families, friends and loved ones, so should visitors to our country.
“And by stopping people coming in from spreading the virus further, we can control it and get back to normal sooner – meaning the tourism industry will be up and running faster.”
In a message to critics, the ministers added: “We know that this will mean that challenges continue in the coming weeks, but that’s why we have an unprecedented package of support – the most comprehensive in the world – both for employees and businesses.
“But we will all suffer if we get this wrong and that is why it is crucial that we introduce these measures now. Let’s not throw away our progress in tackling this deadly virus. We owe it to the thousands who have died.”
Hinting at a possible climb-down later this month, they said: “As with all COVID-19 policies, the government will review these and other measures, looking at global infection rates, the measures in place around the world, and the latest scientific advances.
“We are working with the transport industry to see how we can introduce agreements with other countries when safe to do so, so we can go abroad and tourists can come here.
“But as the prime minister has outlined, we must take it one step at a time. We must keep the country safe from potentially infected passengers unknowingly spreading the virus to others in society and ensure that the public’s health always comes first.”
The ministers confirm that from Monday, people arriving to the UK will need to self-isolate for 14 days. Travel details and passenger contact information will need to be provided. There will be spot checks and fines.
This week until Thursday, Dermot Murnaghan will be hosting After the Pandemic: Our New World – a series of special live programmes about what our world will be like once the pandemic is over.
We’ll be joined by some of the biggest names from the worlds of culture, politics, economics, science and technology. And you can take part too.
If you’d like to be in our virtual audience – from your own home – and put questions to the experts, email [email protected]