MPs have urged the government to maintain a flexible approach to border quarantine measures and Covid testing, with restrictions on entry "likely to remain in place for some time".
Members of the government’s Home Office select committee said it was vital these systems were transparent to ensure they maintain public confidence and trust in measures such as self-isolation.
Their warning came in a damning report on the government’s decision to lift all Covid quarantine measures in mid-March at a time "when hundreds of new cases were arriving every day".
It was another three months before the UK introduced a formal quarantine policy, which is widely accepted to have hit consumer confidence – and hampered the travel sector’s efforts to tentatively emerge from the coronavirus crisis.
A further month then passed before the country’s first quarantine-free travel corridors came into effect.
"The UK will have to maintain a flexible approach that reacts quickly to emerging circumstances and learn from practice in other countries," said the committee, with members praising the government for acting quickly on Spain, albeit while giving the travel sector and travellers just a few hours’ notice.
"Greater clarity would be helpful on the government’s overall objectives for its border measures and travel corridors as part of the wider strategy against Covid-19, including how it is balancing public health and economic considerations," the committee added.
"Maintaining transparency and trust will be vital if public confidence in self-isolation and quarantine measures following international travel is to be sustained in the long-term."
The committee said there was a lack of clarity within government around which department or agency was responsible for coordinating Covid border policy, with members recommending the cabinet or Home Office should be charged with leading on border policy.
Other issues raised by the committee’s report included a lack of evidence supporting the Home Office’s claim quarantine compliance was 99.9%; members have called on government to routinely publish the number of people required to quarantine, as well as the number of spot checks, home visits, police referrals and enforcement actions taken.
Paul Charles, founder and chief executive of travel consultancy the PC Agency and Quash Quarantine campaign spokesperson, said: “The committee is right to point out quarantine works effectively at the start of a pandemic to keep case numbers low.
"But it doesn’t work in blanket form when a country needs to get its economy going again.
"Hopefully the government has now learned that targeted measures are more effective, in helping our health and our economy, than a blunt, blanket approach.”