Sunak has responded to growing criticism from Conservative MPs over his “dithering” on the issue and the mixed messages from his government about introducing Covid tests, which will now start on January 5.
Only yesterday (Dec 29) a Number 10 spokesperson said: “At the moment there are no plans to introduce any new Covid-19 testing for arrivals.”
That undermined defence secretary Ben Wallace’s earlier assurance that the “government has said it’s now going to keep that [Covid screening] under review and review whether different countries with Covid outbreaks … should obviously face different restrictions.
“I think, as we speak, that is being reviewed, and I’ll expect to see some clarification I think by the Department for Transport probably today or tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, health secretary Steve Barclay held meetings with the chief medical officer and Health Security Agency (HSA) officials, after which health minister Will Quince described China as “the key threat” but said there is no evidence of a new variant coming from there.
“At the moment the variant that is in China currently is already prevalent here in the UK,” added Quince. Another official said the data from China is under review by the HSA, “but so far nothing they are seeing is giving us cause for concern or reason to change our policy.”
Over on Times radio, Conservative MP Steve Brine, the chair of the health select committee told listeners of his concern of the potential threat to the NHS of “lots and lots of Chinese nationals visitors…with a poor vaccine…[who] end up getting sick.”
Brine continued: “The NHS has frankly got enough on its plate right now without any emergency admissions, which it would of course have to deal with.
“We know the lesson of two years ago was that time is of the essence … The public are a bit bemused that we are in this place, seemingly not having learned.”
Today (Dec 30), the Department of Health and Social Care said that from January 5 all airline arrivals from China will need to show a negative test. Travel is a devolved matter for the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments, but all direct flights from China are believed to land at English airports.
Barclay said today that the UK is taking a “balanced and precautionary approach” by introducing the “temporary” measure.