Border officials are no longer required to perform basic Covid checks on arrivals to England from Green and Orange List countries, according to leaked instructions that have prompted the government to turn a blind eye to the risk of import cases of Covid.
A change that came into effect on Monday means border forces officers no longer have to check whether new arrivals have received a negative Covid test, have booked a test in the next few days, or have a passenger locator form showing an address where they will isolate themselves if necessary.
Border Force sources contacted the Guardian on condition of anonymity to express serious concerns about the change in approach and said it was to reduce queues as trips to the foreign reboot.
The government said it would not comment on the leaked documents and stressed that airlines are legally required to carry out all necessary checks.
One of the most criticized aspects of the government’s Covid strategy has been the ministers’ approach to the border. Critics say it has been slow to act to close the borders to arrivals from India this year, ultimately allowing the more infectious Delta variant to take hold.
Reports previously suggested the cabinet was frequently divided over the best approach, with Home Secretary Priti Patel calling for tighter controls as early as March 2020.
An instruction sent to border force personnel, seen by the Guardian, explains that for arrivals from countries on the Amber and Green Lists:
- Agents are not required to routinely verify a passenger locator form or pre-departure tests or tests to be performed on the second and eighth days after arrival.
- When the computer system indicates that a passenger locator form was not found, officers are not required to verify the form or question the passenger unless the passenger displays other “warning indicators” or behavior suggesting non-compliance â.
- Electronic gates (eGates) will no longer direct passengers to face-to-face checks by border enforcement officers if a passenger tracking form is not found.
The Passenger Tracking Form is designed to be used to trace people who may have come in contact with someone who tested positive for Covid.
It is also used to monitor the self-isolation of people who have been abroad and returned to the UK and who are not exempt from quarantine measures.
Border forces officers told The Guardian the changes were made because the computer systems used at the border struggled to cope with the number of checks and the new policy allowing fully vaccinated passengers to avoid the car. – isolation on return from the countries on the orange list. There were fears of an increase in arrivals and a significant increase in wait times, they said.
One officer said, âThe only rationale for this change is to speed up wait times when travel is expected to increase. As the country unlocks, this is the time when we should use all the tools available to mitigate risk, not literally close our eyes. “
Another officer disputed the government’s claim that the checks carried out by the airline were sufficient. âThe official line is that airlines are so good at checking forms that we can trust them and we don’t need to check ourselves. However, the empirical evidence shows that we get passengers who arrive with positive tests and are allowed to travel because no one has read their forms correctly, âthey said.
Double-vaccinated passengers returning from Amber List countries, including much of Europe, are no longer required to self-isolate for 10 days but still have to pass a test before landing in England and on the second day after their arrival. Unvaccinated passengers must self-isolate and pass the same tests, plus an additional test on the eighth day after arrival.
The testing regime has been criticized as being prohibitively expensive. Research published by Which? earlier this month, the current cost of testing was probably too high for most people, especially families. An unvaccinated traveler on a return trip to Spain currently requires four tests totaling around Â£ 233 per person or for a family of four, Â£ 932.
A government spokesperson said: âOur top priority is to protect the health of the public and our improved border regime helps reduce the risk of transmission of new variants.
âAll passenger tracking forms are still verified by carriers, as they are legally required to do, and to suggest otherwise is wrong. This legal requirement on carriers is underpinned by a strong compliance regime, which is overseen by regulators.
âCompliance with these rules is essential in order to protect the population from new variants of Covid-19, and there will therefore be severe fines for those who do not follow the rules. “