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Current self-isolation requirements for travellers arriving in England not properly justified or checked says Lords Committee

The House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has expressed concerns about the provisions of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) (England) (Amendment) (No. 26) Regulations.

The instrument sets out how travellers arriving in England from non-exempt countries can shorten the requirement to self-isolate if they take a private COVID-19 test five days after their arrival and receive a negative result (“Test and Release” scheme).

Given that these travellers all come from places where the infection rate is too high to allow free movement after their arrival, the Committee’s 37th report raised substantial concerns about whether this approach, which allows people to break quarantine after five days in order to take a test, is justifiable.

In particular the Report highlighted the low number of checks being made on those supposed to be self-isolating: figures indicate that 23% of the small sample of travellers whose completed Passenger Locator Forms were investigated by the police were either in breach of self-isolation (7%) or untraceable (16%).

Robert Courts MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport (DfT) wrote to the Chairman to address points raised in the 37th Report but failed to allay the Committee’s concerns. That letter is published in the Committee's 40th report along with a commentary which says:

  • Although the DfT claimed that the along with a commentary which says: were mirroring the approach of Germany and Iceland, they did not address the difference in infection rates.
  • The Committee welcomed the Government commitment to increased enforcement of the requirement to complete a Passenger Locator Form upon arrival in England. However, the response does not address the low number of fines issued due to travellers being untraceable or in breach of isolation when investigated by the police.
  • Finally, the Government justified the reduction in the self-isolation period by asserting that there is only “a marginal difference” in the protective effectiveness of testing after five days, which is 85%, and in testing after 10 days when it rises to 98%. However, given that these figures relate to significant numbers of travellers arriving from countries with high infection rates, the 13-percentage point difference between these figures seems more than marginal, and likely to increase the risk of new infection. 

In conclusion the Committee remain of the view expressed in its 37th report that there is insufficient explanation to support the policy objective and intended implementation of the instrument.

The Committee’s 40th report additionally raises further concerns about how closely the Department for Transport has consulted the Border Force, the police and above all the Department for Health and Social Care, in formulating this policy.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, Chair of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee said,

“Although we appreciate the explanation provided by the Department for Transport in response to the concerns we raised, we were not convinced that the policy risk has been properly justified in relation its potential to raise infection rates in England.

“We were particularly concerned about the apparent lack of collaborative working between the relevant Departments, which has led to the development of a policy that faces challenges in effective implementation.

“We urge the Government to give a clearer justification for this policy or to review its operation urgently.”

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