SAGE tells No10 to bring back ‘fit to fly’ tests for vaccinated UK arrivals
All British arrivals should be forced to quarantine for five days and undergo a PCR test before departure, even if they have been vaccinated, SAGE has advised.
The panel of experts warned that current speed bumps are causing ‘significant’ numbers of infected people to slip through the cracks.
Currently, fully vaccinated people entering the UK must undergo a PCR test within the first two days of returning to the UK.
There’s nothing stopping them from doing this once they land and get a result on the same day, freeing them from their isolation within hours.
SAGE scientists said this may not give the virus enough time to incubate. They also called for ministers to introduce day five and day eight tests.
Only unvaccinated people entering the UK are required to undergo ‘fit to fly’ testing before boarding a plane back to Britain.
SAGE’s new advice was leaked from the minutes of an emergency meeting on the new Omicron variant that was held Monday.
More than 30 scientists attended the video conference on November 29, led by Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and Chief Medical Adviser Professor Chris Whitty.
They also said Britain should brace itself for a “potentially very significant wave with associated hospitalizations” this winter if the worst estimates about Omicron prove true.
Boris Johnson yesterday tightened travel rules to require arrivals to self-isolate until they get a negative PCR test result.
But shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said today it was “totally unacceptable” for ministers not to heed the advice of their own scientists to impose more borders on the border.
The government this week rejected calls for self-isolation of up to eight days for vaccinated arrivals, arguing it would have an ‘adverse’ impact on the travel industry.
A total of 22 cases of the Omicron varaint have been discovered in the UK. The nine in Scotland are linked to one event. The 13 in England are all linked to travel abroad
SAGE scientists have called for an immediate increase in testing requirements for vaccinated arrivals. (Pictured: BA flight departs from Heathrow)
Vaccinated arrivals can avoid self-isolation by taking a Covid test at the airport and getting their results just three hours later.
Some testing companies, including ExpressTest, are offering this package for £119.
A total of 22 Omicron cases have been officially confirmed, but hundreds of suspicious samples are still being analyzed.
The nine cases in Scotland have been linked to one event on November 20, Nicola Sturgeon confirmed yesterday.
But there are fears that the virus could already spread domestically there.
Self-isolation rules apply until March
Tory MPs have criticized the government after it emerged that new rules on self-isolation will be enacted into law until March, raising fears that the curbs could remain in place well beyond a promised three-week review.
A new restriction came into effect yesterday, requiring people who have been in contact with a case of the Omicron coronavirus variant to self-isolate for 10 days or risk a fine of up to £10,000.
Boris Johnson has said the rule, along with requirements to wear face masks in shops and on public transport and for returning travelers to take a PCR test on or before day two after arrival, will be reviewed before Christmas.
But the regulations underlying the self-isolation rule will not expire until March 24, prompting a response from anti-lockdown Tories.
Conservative MPs have expressed concern that the new rule could spark another ‘ping demic’ that could devastate the economy and education system.
But Health Minister Sajid Javid today dismissed those concerns, saying the current number of Omicron cases is still ‘very low’ with 22 confirmed cases in the UK.
Mr. Javid also joined Boris Johnson to tell people not to cancel Christmas parties or Christmas performances at school.
In the minutes, seen by the BBC but not yet published, SAGE scientists say additional Pap smears for travelers returning to the UK would be “valuable.”
They also emphasized how much uncertainty there is about the transferability and effectiveness of the variant against vaccines.
Ms Cooper reprimanded ministers for failing to sit up and take note of their scientists’ advice.
She said: ‘It is totally unacceptable for ministers to take no action at the border when even their own advisers are telling them to introduce pre-departure tests.
It cannot be true that people in the UK can travel to an airport, board a busy flight, queue at busy departure gates and travel on trains and buses without having taken a test.
“The government must not repeat the mistakes it made earlier in the pandemic by taking action too slowly to prevent new cases of the Omicron variant from entering the UK.”
Boris Johnson tightened restrictions on arrivals out of concerns over the Omicron variant, saying they would delay ‘seeding’ in the UK.
But Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford have called on the Prime Minister to go ahead and demand that all arrivals be quarantined for eight days.
About 78,000 people arrived at UK airports every day last year as lockdowns and restrictions reduced the number of air passengers. It is thought to be higher now, although still below the 500,000 arrivals per day recorded before the pandemic started.
Between the detection of the Omicron variant and the imposition of travel restrictions, up to 50 direct flights from South Africa have arrived in the UK.
Now anyone coming out of the red-listed country will have to go into mandatory hotel quarantine for 11 days for £2,285.
At least six countries in southern Africa have also been slammed with the restrictions.
Guidelines for unvaccinated arrivals required them to take a Covid test three days before leaving for the UK and on days two and eight after their arrival. They also have to self-isolate for ten days.
For vaccinated travelers, they must self-isolate and take a Covid test within two days of arrival. They can only self-isolate if the test is negative.
Johnson has also returned face masks to stores, on public transportation and on school hallways, saying anyone closely involved in an Omicron case should self-isolate.
But he was under pressure to step up restrictions further amid growing concerns about the spread of the Omicron variant.
Dr Jenny Harries, the head of the UK Health Security Agency, said yesterday that people should avoid socializing in the run-up to Christmas.
And some experts have called for face masks to be used again in classrooms.
People in Scotland have also been told to work from home whenever possible to contain the spread of the virus.
Scientists are working at breakneck speed to pinpoint the risk, but they say there won’t be any concrete results for the next two weeks.
Top epidemiologists from the UK Health Security Agency say hundreds of cases need to be identified before they can make concrete statements about its transmissibility.
Israeli news site Channel 24 yesterday suggested that Omicron may be 1.3 times more contagious than Delta, but they have not provided any data to substantiate the claim. Israel’s health ministry said it would not recognize the claim.