The government must make "significant changes" to the way in which it communicates any further changes in countries’ quarantine status, a cross-party committee of MPs has advised.
The Home Office select committee on Wednesday (5 August) said while it welcomed the decision to reintroduce border measures and provide exemptions through quarantine-free travel corridors, it was vital the government published the traffic light assessments, prepared by its Joint Biosecurity Centre, to ensure travellers have up-to-date information on the risks of travelling to a specific destination.
"We support the development of travel corridors to recognise the different prevalence of the virus in different countries," said the committee in a damning report on the government’s approach to border controls during the coronavirus crisis.
"But we urge the government to be more transparent and publish the analysis behind its decisions. It will build more support for the difficult balancing judgements it has to take if it is open about the evidence behind them."
On Spain, the committee said the 25 July decision to impose a two-week quarantine requirement on arrivals, "given the surge in Covid infections in Spain", was "the right one".
Members added the decision showed the government had learned from mistakes made earlier in the crisis, such as not extending early, country-specific measures imposed on China, Iran and Italy to Spain and other growing Covid hotspots.
"Drawing on evidence thousands of people with Covid-19 arrived in or returned to the UK in February and March, the committee concludes the UK’s experience of Covid-19 has been far worse as a result of the government’s decision not to require quarantine during March, which would have reduced the number of imported infections," said the committee’s report.
"The committee is particularly critical of the government’s decision on 13 March to remove all self-isolation guidance for travellers arriving in the UK at a time when other comparable countries were strengthening their border measures, and when hundreds of new Covid cases were arriving every day – particularly from Spain, Italy and France, including many British residents returning home."
The report branded the decision "inexplicable", adding the failure to have any special border measures at all in place by mid-March was a "serious error".
While supportive of the government’s 25 July decision to revoke Spain’s travel corridor and advise against all but essential travel to mainland Spain and its islands, the committee said it recognised the "extreme difficulties" it caused for many travellers.
"[They] paid for holidays in Spain following government guidance in the expectation they would be able to return to work, caring responsibilities, medical appointments or family events on their return," said the committee.
"There should be significant changes to the way such decisions are handled and communicated in future.
"The government has rightly warned now about the risk travel corridors will change, but stronger warnings should have been given when the travel corridors were announced in early July. Government mixed messages, including ministers hailing the measures as ’good news for holidaymakers’, were regrettable."
The report recommends the government publish the traffic light assessments and prevalence rates for different countries compiled by the Joint Biosecurity Centre.
"Potential travellers must be able to access information on the risks of travelling, especially when the rules may change at short notice," said the committee.