London confirms travellers from Ireland to be exempt from Covid-19 quarantine

Spokesman plays down concerns Common Travel Area could be used as back door into Britain

British health secretary Matt Hancock: Covid-19 testing programme is to expand as  the death toll reached 34,796, up 160 since Sunday. Photograph: Andrew Parsons

British health secretary Matt Hancock: Covid-19 testing programme is to expand as the death toll reached 34,796, up 160 since Sunday. Photograph: Andrew Parsons

 

Downing Street has confirmed that travellers from within the Common Travel Area with Ireland would be exempt from a 14-day quarantine despite fears that travellers from other countries could exploit the exemption.

The prime minister’s official spokesman played down concerns that Ireland could be used as a back door into Britain and that Dublin has not reciprocated the exemption for visitors from Britain.

“It’s the sort of question that we’ll be able to address when we set out the full details of the policy but we’re very used to having a Common Travel Area and ensuring that the UK’s rules can be properly enforced with the Common Travel Area in mind,” the spokesman said.

“The Common Travel Area is not a new thing and we are used to dealing with the repercussions of having the Common Travel Area.”

The Common Travel Area’s freedom of movement between Britain and Ireland only applies to citizens of the two countries and the system has long been applied asymmetrically, with passports checked on entry to Dublin but not in London. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last week ruled out exempting visitors from Great Britain from Ireland’s quarantine, which applies regardless of nationality.

Peace process

“We said from the outset that there would be an exemption for the Common Travel Area. It’s a long-standing and important agreement between the United Kingdom and the Irish Government. It forms part of the peace process and we’ve been clear from the outset that this policy won’t apply to the Common Travel Area,” the Downing Street spokesman said. 

Anyone in Britain over the age of five who has coronavirus symptoms is now entitled to a test, health secretary Matt Hancock has told MPs, as the government targets 200,000 tests a day. But progress on developing a contact tracing app has slowed and it is now not expected to be launched until next month.

Mr Hancock announced the expansion of the testing programme as Britain’s death toll from the virus reached 34,796, an increase of 160 since Sunday – the smallest daily increase since the lockdown began almost two months ago.

Contact tracers

The health secretary said the government had recruited more than 20,000 people to do contact tracing, which Britain abandoned in the early weeks of the epidemic.

“I can confirm that we have recruited over 21,000 contact tracers in England. This includes 7,500 healthcare professionals who will provide our call handlers with expert clinical advice. They will help manually trace the contacts of anyone who’s had a positive test and advise them on whether they need to isolate,” he said.

Most of the contact tracers without a medical background are call centre workers hired by the outsourcing company Serco and who are given a day’s training. Deputy chief medical officer Jonathan van Tam said manual tracing was more important than the contact tracing app but he said the turnaround time for testing must be improved.

“We need to do it bigger and faster, and as fast as we can,” he said.