Home Secretary oral statement on health measures at the border

The Home Secretary delivered an oral statement to the House of Commons on health measures being introduced at the border in response to coronavirus.

With permission Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the introduction of public health measures at the border in response to coronavirus.

This is another cross-government measure in our continued collective fight against the virus, to save lives and protect the British public by preventing a second wave of this disease.

Because our priority has always been to protect people’s health and to keep those in the UK safe from the virus, and introducing this measure now will play an important role in our fight against coronavirus.

The tragic events of recent months have shown that in a world of serious threats to the UK and to global stability, pandemics have no boundaries.

Throughout this national endeavour the introduction of public health measures has been to protect the public, keep the virus under control and now to protect our hard-won progress as we move in the right direction.

The scientific advice has been consistent and clear.

And it is thanks to the collective determination and the resolve of the British public, we are past the peak. But we are now more vulnerable to new infections being brought in from abroad.

Some have suggested that public health measures at the border should have been introduced when the virus was at its peak.

However, at that time, the scientific advice was clear that such measures would have made little difference when domestic transmission was widespread.

But now, the transmission rate in the UK continues to decline, and international travel is likely to resume from its record low.

Therefore, the scientific advice is that imported cases of the virus pose a more significant threat to our national effort and our recovery.

Travellers from overseas, could become a higher proportion of the overall number of infections in the UK and therefore increase the spread of the disease.

The government is therefore taking a proportionate and time-limited approach to protect the health of the British public.

Public health measures

Madam Deputy Speaker, I will recap and recall to the House the key points of the public health measures the Government is putting in place from 8 June.

These temporary requirements are set out in full in the Health Protection Regulations laid today.

These will apply across England, with the Devolved Administrations laying their own regulations to set out their enforcement approaches.

To limit the spread of infection, arrivals must self-isolate for 14 days, this is the incubation period of coronavirus. And this follows expert medical advice and is in line with the NHS Test and Trace service self-isolation period for anyone who has been in contact with the disease.

Working with key industries, the Government has deliberately included a limited number of exemptions to the self-isolation rules, to allow essential services and supply chains to continue, keeping food on our tables, and getting vital medicine and PPE to the frontline.

The responsibility for sector specific exemptions sits with relevant government departments. Arrivals to the UK will be required to fill in a Contact Locator Form including details as to where they will isolate and how they can be contacted.

This form will be found on GOV.UK and a government led working group with the industry has developed a process for carriers to inform travellers on the information they need to provide in order to travel to the UK.

The form must be completed in advance of travel to provide details of the journey.

And Border Force will be at the frontline of enforcing this requirement.

Passengers will require a receipt, either printed or on their phone electronically, to prove they have completed the form.

And Border Force will undertake spot checks at the border and may refuse entry to non-resident nationals who refuse to comply.

They will have the power to impose a £100 fixed penalty notice to those who don’t comply.

Our fantastic frontline border force officers are world class and are consistently working to keep our borders safe and secure.

The data collected will be used by Public Health England, who will undertake checks and ensure people understand, and are following the rules.

If Public Health England have reason to believe someone is not following the law as they should be, they will inform the police.

We trust the British people, and our visitors, to play their part in acting responsibly and follow the rules to control the spread of coronavirus.

But we will not allow a reckless minority to put our domestic recovery at risk – so there will be penalties and enforcement for those who break them.

A breach of self-isolation could result in a £1,000 fixed penalty notice in England, or potential prosecution.

And this programme will work alongside Test and Trace to help us further minimise the public health threat of coronavirus.

Review of measures

Madam Deputy Speaker, Secretaries of State for the Cabinet Office, Transport, Business and Health have worked across government, the Devolved Administrations, with science and industry to develop the policy carefully for this public health action.

In line with all government COVID-19 measures, and as I announced on 22 May, the measures will be kept under regular review to ensure they remain proportionate and necessary.

I can inform the House that the first review will take place in the week commencing 28 June and they will be assessed on an ongoing basis thereafter, together with all our other measures to fight this disease.

We will publish in due course more information on the criteria that must be satisfied to lift these public health measures.

But I can update the House on some of the factors we will consider.

And these include:

  • the rate of infection and transmission internationally and the credibility of the reporting
  • the measures that international partners have put in place
  • levels of imported cases in other countries, and where there are more relaxed border measures
  • and the degree to which antibody and other methods of testing prove effective in minimising the health risk
  • country specific reports will be provided to allow us to monitor global progress

But we will only consider reviewing these measures when the evidence shows it is safe to do so, because public health will always come first.

And - as we have considered for all our cross-government COVID-19 measures - we will take into account the impact on our economy and industry.

Industry

The aviation and travel industry is home to some of Britain’s most successful businesses and supports thousands of jobs.

Across government we understand how tough the public health measures to prevent a second wave of coronavirus are for this sector.

The industry has a proud record of making the safety of its passengers and staff its number one priority.

It also has a record of dynamism and innovation.

Engagement with the industry is crucial and we are asking them to work with us on these measures.

We are liaising with bodies such as the International Civil Aviation Organization on this and other COVID-19 related issues.

And we will continue to work closely with companies and carriers.

That is why, with my RHF the Transport Secretary, we will tomorrow host a roundtable to work across the travel sector and the broader business sector as well on how we can innovate and move forward together. But also form a long-term plan for industry.

The government and the industry share the same aim: to get Britain, and our economy moving again in a way which is safe and also practical, for everyone.

Cross-government approach

Madam Deputy Speaker, our priority has always been the safety of our people.

This has driven our evidence-led cross-government approach to this whole crisis.

The Foreign Office currently advise against all but essential travel abroad - or no travel at all to a country where the risk of COVID-19 remains unacceptably high.

There has been engagement with embassies representing countries from around the world to explain our approach.

Global Britain

And taking this public health action - alongside our other measures, including Test and Trace and continued social distancing - in the long run we will ensure that we can have greater freedom in the longer term.

And of course Madam Deputy Speaker, that includes international travel corridors. A subject that has already this afternoon been discussed in the House.

Currently, there should only be essential travel, but across government and with the sector we continue to explore all options for future safe travel.

Any international approaches will be bilateral and agreed with the other countries concerned. And of course, we will need to ensure that those countries are deemed to be safe.

We are not alone in our fight against this disease, or in the measures we have taken to stop it.

Conclusion

Madam Deputy Speaker, these measures are backed by the science, supported by the public, and essential to save lives

We know they will present difficulties for the tourism industry, but that’s why we have an unprecedented package of support, the most comprehensive in the world, for both employees and businesses.

But we will all suffer in the long run if we get this wrong.

That’s why it’s crucial that we introduce these measures now.

Let’s not throw away our hard-won progress in tackling this virus.

And first and foremost, we owe it to the thousands of people who have died.

And we owe it also to the millions of people across the whole of the United Kingdom whose sacrifices over the previous months in following social distancing have together helped us to bring this virus under control.

I commend this statement to the House.

Published 3 June 2020