Labour has called on the government to expand Covid-19 testing at airports to reduce the amount of time that travellers have to spend in self-isolation on their return to the UK.
The opposition party said the current quarantine measures, which have been enforced for holidaymakers returning from countries with a high prevalence of Covid-19 cases, were “chaotic” and harmful to the travel industry.
Calling for a review into the guidelines, shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said a “robust testing regime in airports” could minimise the need to quarantine for two weeks.
He also raised ”serious concerns” that incoming travellers to the UK were not being properly monitored, claiming “less than a third of passenger locator forms are checked”.
In a letter to home secretary Priti Patel, Mr Thomas-Symonds wrote: “I write to call for a rapid review to fix chaotic quarantine arrangements that are losing public confidence and undermining our ability to keep people safe and save jobs.
“In order to rebuild this trust I am calling on government to undertake a review into quarantine policy, to report within a fortnight.
“It should include outlining options for a robust testing regime in airports, and related follow up tests, that could help to safely minimise the need for 14 day quarantine.
“It is clear that ramped up testing is an important part of trying to respond to the pandemic and safely reopen society.
“Given the huge challenges being faced by the travel sector and the scale of job losses, it makes sense to look at this area as part of a wider package of improvements to the testing regime.”
The UK government has been making weekly decisions in response to rising coronavirus rates in Europe and beyond, opting to reimpose travel restrictions where the risk of infection is escalating.
Holidaymakers in France, Spain and the Netherlands have all been caught out by the changes in recent weeks as ministers have introduced, in some cases with only a few hours’ notice, regulations forcing those returning to self-isolate for 14 days.
Inconsistencies in the quarantine policies adopted across the UK have also added to the sense of confusion and anger surrounding the industry.
Earlier this week, Scotland and Wales reintroduced quarantine measures for those returning from Portugal but England and Northern Ireland did not.
Scotland also applied self-isolation rules to Greece and Wales did the same for six Greek islands, including Zante and Crete, while Westminster and Stormont have so far resisted tightening the travel guidance for the Mediterranean country.
“I do realise it creates confusion for people not to have a single rule, but we do have this devolved approach throughout the United Kingdom and I can only be responsible for the English part of that,” he told Sky News.
The transport secretary said that while the main measure of new infections for Portugal was high, the positivity rate – the proportion of tests showing coronavirus – was declining.
On BBC Radio’s Today programme, he accused the Scottish government of “jumping the gun”.
“It would be far better to coordinate.”
The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) is among the industry bodies to respond with fury.
Gloria Guevara, president and chief executive, said: “WTTC shares the bewilderment of British holidaymakers at the absurd spectacle of completely different quarantine rules in England, Scotland and Wales for those now returning back from Greece.
“This public policy lottery is creating chaos. It shows confusion, mistrust and further seriously undermines the government’s credibility in the eyes of the public.
“We urgently need to restore the confidence to travel, not create more uncertainty.”
Airlines have also criticised the use of quarantine measures as they face large job cuts due to lockdowns around the globe reducing traveller numbers.
© Getty Images MIAMI, FLORIDA – AUGUST 05: A sign reading Virgin Atlantic is seen at the Miami International Airport on August 05, 2020 in Miami, Florida. On Tuesday, in a U.S. federal bankruptcy court in New York, Virgin Atlantic, the airline founded by British businessman Richard Branson, filed for protection creditors as it tries to survive the economic upheaval created by the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Virgin Atlantic announced on Friday it plans to axe another 1,150 jobs after completing a £1.2 billion rescue deal.
The further job losses come less than four months after the carrier ditched 3,150 roles and ended its operations at Gatwick Airport following a worldwide collapse in demand.
Mr Thomas-Symonds pushed for state support for the travel industry to continue as a result of the hardships being faced.
He told Ms Patel: “It’s also clear that the impact on the travel sector, as with other badly-hit parts of our economy, is so significant that your government must abandon its one-size-fits-all withdrawal of income support without delay.”