‘Don’t stop all tests for arriving passengers’

TESTING arrivals for Covid should not be stopped completely, the chairwoman of a Scrutiny panel has said, as cases rise across Britain.

Ministers were today expected to announce the end of border testing for most arriving passengers
Ministers were today expected to announce the end of border testing for most arriving passengers

Deputy Mary Le Hegarat made the comments as ministers were today expected to announce the end of border testing for most arriving passengers as part of their Covid winter strategy.

Deputy Le Hegarat, who chairs the Health and Social Services Scrutiny Panel, cited advice given by government medical adviser Dr Graham Root, who favoured random testing rather than an complete end to swabbing at the borders.

Dr Root, a Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee member, said that selected testing would help to provide ‘surveillance’ about the spread of the virus.

Cases in the UK have increased week on week, with 49,139 new infections and 179 deaths recorded yesterday.

Locally, another death was recorded this week, and case numbers rose by 61 on Tuesday, pushing the number of active cases up to 315.

Yesterday, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the UK would require ‘an incredible amount of luck’ to avoid finding itself in a ‘profound crisis’ in the coming months.

He added that measures such as wearing face masks in certain settings, working from home and vaccine passports should be introduced.

A key argument for cutting arrival testing has revolved around money, with each passenger swabbed costing the government an average of £74. In June it was revealed that the government had spent a total of £27 million on border and general testing between March 2020 and April 2021.

Speaking ahead of today’s announcement, Deputy Le Hegarat said: ‘I do think we still need to have an idea of what is going on. Data and evidence about where cases are coming from and what variants are out there will help to keep a track on it. All the way through this, the government has said that we need to follow the medical advice. From my perspective, if they have followed the advice all the way through this, they should still be doing so now.’

Deputy Le Hegarat added: ‘I understand where the hospitality industry and Economic Development are coming from when they say that we need to be careful so we do not lag behind but some places still have testing in place.

‘I went to Hungary recently and they still had PCR testing on arrival there. I do not think everybody is getting rid of testing processes.’

In recent months some arriving passengers have complained about how long it has taken to pass through the Airport. This has been largely down to a shortage of ground staff tasked with disembarking aircraft but also because of queues for testing.

However, Deputy Le Hegarat said she thought the amount of time it took to pass through the arrivals terminal was still acceptable and that it would not deter prospective travellers.

‘I, for one, want connectivity but I do not see the problem with testing. Bear in mind that if you arrive at Heathrow, you can be waiting 35 or 40 minutes just to collect your bags. Certainly, when I came in yesterday, I was out of the Airport within about 15 minutes. I do not think it is a long time to wait to see whether you have Covid.’

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