The government has announced international travellers will need to show a negative Covid-19 test before being allowed into the UK. Finally. It is utterly ridiculous, shameful and debatably criminal that it has taken this long for the government to implement sturdier, stricter and safer border control. When you consider the timescale, it is a stark indicator of their ineptitude. When the cases and deaths are taken into account, it is a sign of the dangerous situation that their indecisiveness has intensified.
It is 344 days since the first Briton died of Covid-19 on 30-01-2020.
It is 317 days since SAGE first advised the government to restrict activities outside the household on 26-02-2020.
It is 291 days since England went into its first lockdown on 23-03-2020.
It is 231 days since mandatory quarantine was bought in for travellers from overseas on 22-05-2020
There are plenty of other landmark days from last year, such as the WHO declaring a global pandemic or the day handshakes were effectively banned a few hours before the prime minister boasted about doing just that on a covid ward. However, what stands out to me is the 60 days in which everyone in England was under house arrest whilst those travelling from abroad could arrive in the country, untested and untraced, and travel to whatever destination they pleased using whatever transport they wanted before settling there for lockdown. During the toughest times when we were only allowed to leave our houses once a day, people could fly in from anywhere in the world and travel on buses, trains or taxis to homes or hotels, risking the further spread and danger to essential workers who were required to do their job in that time. I was shocked 231 days ago when the quarantine rule was brought in. Not because I disagreed with it, but because I had assumed it had been there for the entirety of the lockdown. I had assumed that a lockdown was all-encompassing and that included the necessary restrictions on international arrivals. New Zealand had closed its borders to non-citizens and non-residents on the 19th of March, four days after making quarantine mandatory. Canada was similar in its restrictions which it brought in on the 25th. These controls were brought in with lockdown measures because it is just common sense and the fact that this didn’t occur in Britain is concerning and embarrassing.
It is easy with the benefit of hindsight to look back and highlight the glaring flaws in this government’s pandemic policy but at the time our understanding of the virus was limited and some travel was essential to repatriate British citizens and offer escape to others. Banning flights could’ve been the nail in the coffin of an aviation industry already on its knees but surely the quarantine should’ve been brought in with lockdown and hotels made available to house those entering the country, like so many other governments had the sense to do. You’d have thought with this government’s desire to have full control over the border, they would’ve moved more swiftly to close it during this pandemic.
The delay to bring in mandatory quarantine was an outrageous lack of sense, as was the delay to bring in testing at airports and the requirement to show a negative test before returning to the UK. The risk of a second wave was more of an inevitability and even Matt Hancock raised concerns as far back as early September. With testing capacity by then over 100,000 a day and the chief executive of Heathrow calling for the introduction of pre-departure testing since last April the means and the desire enabled the possibility of implementing this policy as far back as at least four months ago.
The previous policy of mandatory quarantine had severe limitations and due to its weaknesses, its impact was hampered. It was undoubtedly necessary but it did not go far enough. It was seemingly impossible to police potential violations and it is an inescapable reality that some would completely disregard the rules. The introduction of testing should reduce the spread, but why hasn’t it been in place for longer? Complaining about dither and delay over Brexit was one of Boris Johnson’s key catchphrases during the election. Now, it is the dither and delay by him and his cabinet that has exacerbated the severity of this pandemic.