A cross-party parliamentary group has urged the government to introduce stricter checks at airports and curbs on international travel to prevent Covid-19 cases being imported into the UK.
There are particular fears over new variants of the virus that could evade current vaccines.
In a report published today, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Coronavirus called on ministers to discourage all but essential overseas travel and introduce stronger protections against Covid-19.
It sets out a series of recommendations to “ensure that the hard-won progress in tackling the virus is not lost and mistakes of the past are not repeated”.
Currently, the government plans to reopen international travel on May 17th, with a ‘traffic light’ system detailing which countries are safe to visit.
However, Lucy Moreton of the Immigration Services Union warned that long queues at airports posed a “significant risk” to border staff and travellers, while professor Deenan Pillay from University College London warned that the failure to separate arrivals from amber and red countries “made a nonsense of things”.
Moreton also told MPs that border staff spot around 100 fake Covid-19 test certificates a day, mostly if there is a spelling error, and that the current system is predominantly based on trust.
The APPG report calls on the UK government to maintain curbs on international leisure travel beyond the May 17th, to prevent new variants entering the UK and reduce the risk of a deadly third wave and further lockdowns.
It says this policy should be reviewed on a quarterly basis, and that in the meantime the government must provide “adequate financial support” to businesses in the travel industry.
It comes after health officials confirmed this week that three cases of the Indian variant have been found in Leicester, linked to travel from India.
Layla Moran MP, chair of the APPG on Coronavirus, said: “It is staggering that the government is even contemplating encouraging overseas holidays when airports are already struggling to keep the virus and new variants at bay.
“Urgent measures are needed to better detect fake Covid-19 test certificates, reduce overcrowding in arrival halls and separate out those arriving from red and amber list countries.
“The country’s biosecurity cannot rely on border staff spotting a spelling error.”
The report also sets out recommendations to reduce the risk of infection at airports and ensure passengers arriving from green, amber and red list countries are kept separate.
These include improving ventilation and creating more space for social distancing at arrival halls and verifying travel documents pre-departure where possible to reduce airport queues.
In addition, the cross-party group is calling on the UK to drive the development of international standards for Covid-19 test and vaccination certificates to help border staff spot fake documents.
The report warns that the UK’s biosecurity “cannot rely on border staff spotting a spelling error”.
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