Sajid Javid and Grant Shapps 'privately admitted COVID travel restrictions were pointless'

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28: A man wears a face covering at Heathrow Terminal 2 on November 28, 2021 in London, England. Following the discovery of a new Covid-19 variant, whose mutations  suggest greater transmissibility than previous virus strains, the United Kingdom imposed new restrictions on arriving travelers. From 04:00 today, people arriving from South Africa, Botswana, Lesostho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibi, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, and Angola will face mandatory hotel quarantine. From Tuesday, all international travelers must isolate until they return a negative PCR test, which must be taken by Day 2. (Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images)
Emergency testing and isolation measures are still being imposed on fully vaccinated travellers.(Getty) (Hollie Adams via Getty Images)

Sajid Javid and Grant Shapps have privately admitted the COVID travel restrictions are pointless, it has been claimed.

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw said health secretary Javid and transport secretary Shapps told him there was no point in the travel testing regime.

The red travel list and quarantine hotels for those arriving have now been abandoned but there are still emergency testing and isolation measures imposed on fully vaccinated travellers.

On Wednesday during a transport select committee meeting, Bradshaw told Dr Jenny Harries: “The health minister said to me in the House yesterday that he thought they were pointless and the transport secretary told me in the division lobby last night that he thought they were pointless too.

“Someone is obviously keeping them in place, who is keeping them in place?”

Watch: Health Secretary announces end to UK travel red list

Dr Harries, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) chief, replied: “It’s not for us to make decisions.

“We give advice to ministers and I can’t speak on behalf of either of the ministers that you have just mentioned.”

But committee member Bradshaw, added: “Who is overruling them? Is it No 10, is it the Home Office, is it the Home Secretary, is it the Cabinet as a whole?”

Dr Harries said she couldn’t answer questions on what other ministers had said.

Downing Street later insisted the measures were not “pointless”.

The testing requirements “remain important in helping to prevent additional Omicron from seeding in the United Kingdom”, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.

Shapps previously said the UK was “buying time” by limiting travel from countries where cases of the variant had been confirmed.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think all the history of coronavirus suggests that it is best to act quickly, determine the extent of the way that the virus interacts with vaccines, treatments, transmissibility and then give yourself a bit more time.

“It is inevitable, of course, that it will go all around the world if it is going to do so.

“So this doesn’t prevent it from coming here, but it slows things up and gives us the chance to grow the cultures and test those questions about vaccines and treatments against it.”

He added last week he did not want the red list and hotel quarantine to be implemented "for a moment longer than necessary".

Read more: School closures could be inevitable after wave of Omicron, senior MPs warn

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 08: Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps arrives at 10 Downing Street on December 8, 2021 in London, England. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing accusations of lying after senior Downing Street officials were filmed joking about a lockdown Christmas party that they had previously insisted did not take place. Johnson will face questions in parliament later today at Prime Minister's Questions. (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
Transport secretary Grant Shapps arrives at 10 Downing Street. (Getty) (Chris J Ratcliffe via Getty Images)

On Tuesday, Javid said the spread of Omicron in the UK and the world means the travel red list is “now less effective in slowing the incursion of Omicron from abroad”.

He told MPs: “Whilst we’ll maintain our temporary testing measures for international travel, we will be removing all 11 countries from the travel red list effective from 4am tomorrow.”

Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay later said the government would permit “early release” of people who went into managed quarantine before the changes to the red list.

Javid said earlier this month the government had decided to announce new restrictions after receiving new data about the spread of the Omicron variant.

Read more: COVID: Highest-ever number of children admitted to hospital in a single day

A passenger walks past a placard indicating the testing center in Heathrow Airport in London, Britain, Nov. 30, 2021. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Saturday all travellers entering Britain must take a PCR test by the end of the second day after their arrival, and must self-isolate until they receive a negative test result.   Passengers arriving in Britain from countries in Britain's travel
The travel industry is being hampered by testing rules. (Getty) (Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images)

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of industry body Airlines UK, said the decision to remove all countries from the red list “doesn’t go nearly far enough” due to testing that was making it expensive for people to travel.

Travellers entering the UK are required to take a pre-departure test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result from a post-arrival test.

Alderslade said: “If the red list isn’t necessary given that Omicron is established here at home, then neither are the costly emergency testing and isolation measures imposed on even fully vaccinated travellers, which again put us completely at odds with the rest of Europe.

“It is testing that is the deterrent to travel, not the relatively limited red list.”

He warned that the key Christmas and new year booking period will be “undermined” unless testing rules are eased.

Airport Operators Association chief executive Karen Dee also criticised the “blanket, expensive and burdensome testing regime".

She added: “The UK is only country currently that requires both a pre-departure test and a post-arrival test for all arrivals, regardless of vaccination status.

“UK tests remain significantly more expensive compared to the rest of Europe.

“They therefore place a heavy burden on families just as many were hoping to finally reunite with loved ones who live abroad over the Christmas period.”

Watch: Current measures 'will see us through to the new year' - Grant Shapps