The Public Accounts Committee has criticized the government’s handling of travel restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a report published today, the Committee says that while managing cross-border travel was a key part of the health measures introduced by the government during the pandemic, “despite spending at least £486 million on implementation of its traffic light system, the government did not track its spending on managing cross-border travel or set clear targets.As a result, it does not know if the system worked or if the cost was worth the disruption caused.”
The UK’s traffic light system has seen travelers from ‘red’ countries pay to self-quarantine in hotels. The total cost was £757m, with travelers paying £428m and taxpayers paying a bill of £329m. This was despite the scheme being meant to be self-funding and despite the cost for individuals rising to over £2,200 for a single adult over 10 days in August 2021. The report says only 2% of hotels set up quarantine guests tested positive. The net result of the quarantine program has been “confusion and disruption”, according to the Committee.
The report goes on to say that “Similarly, its failure to develop good data to inform its decisions means it does not know the public health impact of granting 2.5 million exemptions from certain parties. of the system”.
The Committee says that
- The government relied on private sector companies (“carriers”) to implement checks on additional health documents, and on the public to understand and comply with what was required of them. Despite this key role and the costs incurred, the government has not provided any specific additional support to carriers.
- The government has not clearly communicated the changes to the measures to carriers or the public. The government changed the rules at least 10 times between February 2021 and January 2022, but gave the travel industry little time to adapt its operations to these changes.
The Committee noted that
- People traveling found the rules difficult to understand and 40% of people were unaware of the rules for self-isolation.
- Departments have failed to protect the taxpayer and the public from the risk of fraud and poor quality of service from providers of COVID-19 tests for people traveling to the UK, nor to vigorously pursue the fraud that is taking place. is produced.
In conclusion, MP Dame Meg Hillier, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said:
“The approach to border controls and quarantine has caused enormous confusion and disruption with 10 changes in a year. And now we can see it’s not clear what this has achieved. We can be clear on one thing – the cost to the taxpayer of subsidizing expensive quarantine hotels, and over millions of taxpayer dollars spent on measures with no apparent plan or reasoning and little verification or valuable evidence that it worked to protect health public.”
“We don’t have time and it’s not enough for the government to incorporate these failures into its delayed public inquiry – it’s not learning the lessons of the pandemic fast enough and missing opportunities to respond quickly to future emergencies or even current events like new variants of Covid or the spread of Monkeypox.
Mark Tanzer, Chief Executive of ABTA – The Travel Association, said:
“The restrictions imposed by the UK throughout the pandemic have crippled travel, hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs and livelihoods, and the industry is still feeling the effects of these policies.”
“Protecting public health is the top priority in the event of a pandemic, but the measures put in place must be supported by evidence and proportionate to the risk. It is important that the government learns from the lessons of the past two years and adopts a sensible, evidence-based approach to dealing with any future variants or pandemics, and has a financial support system in place for businesses.
The full report can be downloaded below:
Managing cross-border travel during the COVID-19 pandemic