The ‘bad old days’ when countries were added to the red list at a moment’s notice should be over – but it may still happen, the industry has been warned.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he hoped such rapid decision-making would no longer be necessary given the vaccination roll out in the UK and overseas.
But he could give no guarantees that the Government won’t still be forced to make quick judgments.
The minimal notice given to consumers and the industry over additions to the red list has infuriated agents, operators and airlines who have all faced huge upheaval in repatriating customers.
Appearing before the Transport Select Committee yesterday, Mr Shapps also defended what the industry has described as inconsistencies in how countries are moved to the red list.
Asked if he would now give people more than 36 hours’ notice to leave a country deemed unsafe, Mr Shapps said: “I share your frustration about some of the very quick footwork….these things can happen quickly.
“However, I hope given our level of vaccination, and given the level of vaccination around the world, that we have moved away from the bad old days where things had to happen very, very quickly. I absolutely recognise how crippling it is for individuals and for communities when these things happen quickly, and I never want to see it.
“Having said that….you’d expect me as a Government minister to make clear that we will do whatever it takes to protect the health of people in this country.”
Later in the hearing, Mr Shapps clarified that he would not wait until the new year before reviewing the red list. Concerns had been raised that countries on the list would remain so until early 2022.
He told MPs that the review would continue every three weeks.
“We won’t wait until the new year, we will carry on with the three week review,” he confirmed.
Mr Shapps added that rules will now apply based solely on the country of departure, not on any transit port.
“Until now if you transitted through a country that we did not recognise you would have to quarantine when you got here,” he explained. “It’s now the case that when you transit through a country it’s the rules of the country that you left from that follow you home. That is going to be hugely advantageous for restarting the aviation sector in particular.”
Labour MP Ben Bradshaw also asked the Transport Secretary how some countries which have a low rate of COVID infections end up on the red list while others with a higher infection rate do not.
“Can you explain to South Africa why it is on the red list when it’s latest figures are 39 cases per 100,000 whereas Israel whose latest figures are 575 per 100,000 is on the green list?” Mr Bradshaw asked.
Describing such comparisons as a ‘2020 way of looking at these things’, Mr Shapps said the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) analyses a ‘variety of different criteria’.
“For example it looks at levels of vaccination. To take your obvious example, Israel has among the most vaccinated populations in the world…South Africa is a long way behind that,” he said.
Mr Shapps said he would write to the JBC and encourage it to share details on how countries are graded under the traffic light system.