No silver bullet to deal with Covid-19 at airports, insists UK minister

Travellers in Heathrow Airport wearing masks

The UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, has played down the benefits of Covid-19 testing at airports, amid Labour calls for industry-damaging quarantines to be reviewed.

Mr Raab said there is “no silver bullet” in airports and the Government hopes at some stage to “ease up” on the requirements for people to self-isolate at home for 14 days after returning from certain countries.

UK opposition party, Labour, in a letter to Britain’s Home Secretary Priti Patel, argued the “dire warnings” from the travel sector about the use of “chaotic” blanket self-isolation advice meant it was time to review the methods being used to prevent the spread of Covid-19 from those arriving in the UK.

Labour’s Nick Thomas-Symonds said a “robust testing regime in airports” could minimise the need for those returning from countries with high coronavirus prevalence to quarantine for two weeks.

He suggested a “two test system”, citing Iceland as an example where people are tested on arrival and then again after five days have elapsed.

If a person produces two negative results then their quarantine can end, the Labour MP said.

Mr Thomas-Symonds also voiced “serious concerns” about the low level of monitoring of incoming travellers, claiming “less than a third of passenger locator forms are checked”.

But Mr Raab, when pressed about airport testing, told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show: “Let’s just be clear about this when we think about airports – there is no silver bullet in airports.

“The current data suggests that the success rate of positively identifying people with Covid with a test in the airport is less than 10%.”

Put to him that those numbers increase if passengers are then tested again seven days later, Mr Raab said: “There is no silver bullet in the airport alone and that’s why we have the quarantine.

“So, the direction of travel will be making sure we have the capacity and the ability for when the time is right to ease up on the self-isolation at home, and that’s certainly something that we’ll be looking at.

“But we couldn’t – and I think Labour have got themselves into a terrible muddle on this – the idea that one test in an airport could resolve the quarantine issues… we couldn’t safely do that.

“We’re not going to let up on a measure which is crucial for keeping the virus under control.”

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