May 7, 2021
UK Green List Countries Downing Street Press Conference Grant Shapps Transcript
UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps held a Downing Street press conference on May 7, 2021 to announce “Green List” countries. Read the transcript of the briefing with COVID-19 travel updates for the UK here.
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Grant Shapps: (00:00)
It’s from the Chief Executive of the UK Health Security Agency and Paul Lincoln, who’s the Director General of Border Force. We’ve made enormous progress this year, tackling the pandemic across Britain. We’re not at the end of it but the signs are very hopeful. That progress has been hard won, won by the speed and success of our NHS vaccination program, by the huge scale of our testing, and by the sheer sacrifice and the discipline of the British public. And so it’s important that we don’t put that success and undermine it now by putting it at risk. Getting a vaccination feels like being given your life back. The newly vaccinated, thanking the wonderful volunteers, people in tears of relief. But as well as the joy, there’s also concern about resurgence of COVID and it’s a caution we absolutely share as a government. And it’s why the only route out of this pandemic is careful and prudent, a responsible one.
Grant Shapps: (01:11)
Of course, we’re also, as a nation, a group of people who thrive on travel, a nation with family ties across the globe. Notably, nearly one in three new mothers in the UK was born overseas. And in 2019, UK residents took over 93 million trips abroad. So I’m glad to be standing here today announcing the first, albeit tentative, steps towards unlocking international travel. We want a summer in which, with help both vaccines and testings, we can reunite family and friends, travel to places we love. We want to start looking outward again. Whilst COVID has isolated us, travel reunites us. Even if video calls have kept us all connected during the very long lockdowns, there’s simply no substitute for human contact. Travel is, of course, also absolutely crucial to rebuilding our economy, bringing long awaited relief to hard hit airlines, airports, the tourism sector, which taxpayers have spent 7 billion pounds in supporting. But I have to be absolutely straight with you.
Grant Shapps: (02:29)
Our success in combating COVID here with two thirds of adults now vaccinated is not yet replicated in many places abroad. We in this country have managed to construct a fortress against COVID, but the disease is still prevalent in other parts of the world, most notably at the moment in India. In fact, more new cases of COVID have been diagnosed around the world in the last seven days than at any time since this pandemic began. Nobody, nobody wants to go back into lockdown, not ever. And that’s why today’s announcement removing the stay in the UK restrictions from the 17th of May is necessarily cautious. We must make absolutely sure that the countries we reconnect with are safe, that their infection rates are low, and that their vaccination rates are high. It means making sure that we’re not incubating the most dangerous variants, that they’re not, and that they have safe and secure surveillance in place.
Grant Shapps: (03:39)
And that’s why the Global Travel Task Force has come up with the traffic light system, classifying destinations by risk. And this is based on data by the Joint Biosecurity Center. And it will be published on gov.uk. Red countries are those which should not be visited except in the most extreme of circumstances where repeated testing and isolation in designated government hotels on return is compulsory. Non-UK residents who have been in a red country in the last 10 days will still be barred from entering the UK. I have to tell you now that due to concern about COVID rates and variants of concern, Turkey, the Maldives, Nepal must regrettably be added to the red list today. And the countries form the biggest group. As with the red list, you should not be traveling to these places right now. Returnees will have to do tests on three separate occasions, once before departure, twice after arrival and isolate in a place of their choosing for 10 days.
Grant Shapps: (04:51)
Finally, we have the green countries, which you will have the opportunity to visit no earlier than the 17th of May, as long as you take a pre-departure test before returning to England and a second PCR test two days after you return. And with these green countries, you will not need to quarantine. Travelers will be glad to hear that we’ve been successful in driving down the cost of tests. However, by necessity, this initial green list must be, I’m afraid, limited. So I’m announcing today that from May the 17th, you’ll be able to travel to 12 green list countries and territories, which includes Portugal, Gibraltar, and Israel. I regret the favorite summer destinations like France and Spain and Greece are not yet included, but every three weeks from reopening, we’ll be reviewing the countries to see how and where we can expand the green list. So this is just a first step.
Grant Shapps: (05:52)
The signs overseas are now more promising as a result of their vaccination programs beginning to crank up. And as the summer progresses, we hope that more traditional tourist destinations will be unlocked. But we have to turn the key slowly and green list countries will be placed on a watch list if we start to have any concerns. And if it’s necessary because of a new upswing in cases or a new variant, we’ll not hesitate to act fast and withdraw green status. So, it’s up to you to check thoroughly before traveling. And if you’re thinking of booking your holiday in a green list destination, please check the restrictions applying to new arrivals. So you can get this information on gov.UK. And it is important because each country has its own restrictions. Indeed, our strong advice is not to book any holiday which does not include a refund in the event that the COVID related situation changes and you’re able to cancel.
Grant Shapps: (06:54)
And I’m afraid we do expect longer delays at airports. And Paul will be saying more about this in just a moment. But all these measures are necessary to protect us from new variants and guard against a resurgence of infections. And that is why the UK has now developed the most comprehensive testing regime on the planet, testing up to 2 million people per day, mobilizing our world-leading genome sequencing to spot mutations that could lead to new variants. And these are, if you like, the walls of our fortress, because the first duty of any government is to preserve the safety of its people. But it’s also our responsibility to show global leadership, to work with other countries, to create safe standards for international travel. These were the issues I discuss with the G7 Transport Secretaries when I chaired a meeting with them earlier this week. I was able to set out our own traffic light system as part of international leadership, the governments working to develop these standards, global standards, for digital travel certification.
Grant Shapps: (08:04)
So from the 17th of May, English residents will be able to use their existing NHS health app to gain access to their vaccine records. Alternatively, they’ll be able to request a paper letter to verify the vaccination status. Now, before I finish, let me make one final point. I know that there are many people watching who might want restrictions to be lifted faster and to go further. And there are, if anything, more people who prefer us to go at a slower pace. What unites us all, I think, is the belief that we don’t want to return to the days of misery and suffering and loss. We must keep our fortress, built at such a huge cost to all of us, secure. Until brighter days when unrestricted travel will allow us to meet people who mean the most to us. For now, we must tread carefully, respecting the science that will guide us along the way. I’d like now to turn to Jenny to cover the epidemiological situation. Jenny.
Thank you, Secretary. Could I have the first slide please?
So I’m just going to talk through four slides, which gives the epidemiological picture across the UK at the moment. And what we see here is the number of people testing positive for COVID 19 in the UK. Thankfully, the new cases have continued to decline right across all four nations. And you can see that from a peak at the start of the year around 60,000 cases, our latest figure is 2,060. And that’s actually a decline of just over 300 from this time last week. And the case rates per hundred thousand, which have been up in the hundreds, are now down on average to 23 per hundred thousand. There is some variation across the country and there is an element of plateauing here and positivity has plateaued at around naught 0.8%. Next slide, please.
Then moving on to hospital data. And what you’ll see is that, as we know, the curve shifts a little bit to the right. People tend to be hospitalized slightly later, about two weeks into infection. And again, in the UK, hospital beds occupancy for COVID-19 patients peaked around the middle of January at around 39,000 beds in usage. And since then, it has continued to drop dramatically. So hospital admission rates now, overall, are just above one per hundred thousand, 1.4 in the last week with, again, some variation across the country. All UK nations have seen that decline in hospital beds and we have a decrease of 19% in the preceding week. So currently, we have a 1,231 people in hospital with COVID. But again, just to note that that very rapid decline is plateauing slightly as we go into May. Next slide please.
So here we have the number of deaths of people who had a positive test result for COVID in the UK. Again, if we look back, we have moved from a very sad position in January to where it was well over 1000 deaths per day associated with COVID. And we’re now down to the most recent seven day average at just 12 deaths per day. Now, of course, every one of those is important and a significant loss, but this shows a considerable decline as we go forward into the summer months. And that means that our daily deaths are now less than nought 0.1 per hundred thousand in each UK nation. And the final slide, please.
And this slide shows the number of people who’ve received a vaccination for COVID-19 in the UK, so the total number of people cumulatively who’ve received vaccination by the 6th of May. And we have given 35.1 million individuals their first dose. And of these, another 16.8 have received a second dose.
So the first dose only are the blue bars, and what you can see now is that orange bar shows the number of individuals who have received both doses. And it is really important at this point to highlight that if you have had one dose, do come back for your second dose because this is likely to boost your immunity and keep you safer for longer. So a key message there, go and get your jab. As the Transport Secretary has highlighted, this is a really strong part of the armament in the UK and is contributing significantly to those reductions in hospitalizations and case rates.
Grant Shapps: (12:50)
Jenny, thanks very much, indeed. I’d like to invite Paul Lincoln, Director General of Border Force to talk about our ports.
Paul Lincoln: (12:56)
Thank you very much, Transport Secretary. I’d like to start by paying tribute to the thousands of men and women across Border force who, throughout-
Paul Lincoln: (13:03)
Paying tribute to the thousands of men and women across Border Force, who throughout the pandemic have worked tirelessly to keep the UK safe and secure, all whilst facilitating legitimate trade and travel and helping ensure that the UK’s transition from the EU was a smooth one.
Paul Lincoln: (13:16)
When I last spoke at one of these press conferences, I said, “We all look forward to a time when travel is fully back up and running and Border Force stands ready to ride a warm welcome to the UK.” But unfortunately, we are not back to normality yet. And today, I want to take this opportunity to set out what people can expect to see at the border in terms of the new traffic light system when travel starts to resume on the 17th of May.
Paul Lincoln: (13:43)
Travel will be different. And as the Transport Secretary says, “We still need to be cautious.” There will continue to be additional health checks for every person crossing our border and, inevitably, that will mean it will take longer for most people to enter the UK. These measures have been put in place to protect the hard-fought gains and sacrifices individuals and societies in the UK. Minimizing the risks of importing variants, whilst protecting the success of our vaccine rollout. But ensuring the [inaudible 00:14:15] this country is a joint effort, as well as Border Force and wider government, every passenger, every carrier, every seaport, and every airport, has a role to play in this endeavor.
Paul Lincoln: (14:28)
For the time being, passengers will need to expect an increase in the time taken at each stage of their journey. It currently takes a Border Force officer five to ten minutes to complete all the necessary checks, which means even for the most compliant passenger, it might take 14 or 15 times longer to process them before compared to around 25 seconds. And where people do not have the correct paperwork, it can and has taken considerably longer, including when we need to serve fixed penalty notices for non-compliance.
Paul Lincoln: (15:04)
Border Force officers have, to date, been manually checking that each person has a valid negative COVID-19 test and that has been taken within 72 hours of their journey to the UK, that everyone has also booked a day two and day eight test package, that those traveling from red countries have booked into a quarantined hotel and are handed off to the managed quarantine service, that those arriving from elsewhere understand the requirement to quarantine at home for 10 days, and finally, that people have correctly completed their passenger locator form so that they can be contacted by NHS Test and Trace if necessary.
Paul Lincoln: (15:44)
To keep us all safe, ministers all agree, the border force should check a hundred percent of passengers. And we have and will continue to do so. But we have been taking several steps to significantly improve and speed up this process. We are digitizing a number of the checks just mentioned, including the passenger locator form process, so it can be used in e-gates. We are providing a simpler process for carriers or check-in, and we’ll be increasing the number of Border Force officers that are available to process passengers at immigration desks.
Paul Lincoln: (16:16)
We will do all that we can to smooth the process. And the rollout of the summer of our e-gate upgrade program will help minimize the time at the border for as many people as possible. But the travel industry also needs to play its part by making sure that every passenger is ready for the checks before they meet the border. Nonetheless, passengers should still expect times at the borders to take longer as we conduct the checks that the public rightly expect during this global pandemic. Border force officers will deliver the best service possible, but they will also continue the vital work that they do every day to protect national security, to prevent drugs, weapons, and other illicit goods from entering the UK, to crack down on illegal migration, and to protect vulnerable people.
Paul Lincoln: (17:06)
We all understand the queues are frustrating to those who are traveling, especially after long journeys and with young families and when people want to return to their loved ones. But if we all play our part in complying with the health checks, collectively, we will also all help to ensure the safety of our communities whilst making sure that the gradual increase in international travel is as smooth as possible.
Grant Shapps: (17:32)
Well, thanks very much, indeed. I’d like now to turn to our first question, which comes from David in West Cornwall.
Keeping the roadmap timetable depends on the vaccine deployment program continuing successfully. There doesn’t seem to be a shortage in vaccine supply at present, but might that success be threatened by a significant shortfall, in fact, seeing uptake, particularly in the younger age groups? If so, what level of uptake is needed to keep to the timetable?
Grant Shapps: (18:05)
David, thanks very much. I’m going to actually ask Jenny’s comment on this. But I will just say the level of uptake has been absolutely phenomenal so far. I think it’s fair to say, far higher than anyone anticipated when we were talking about these things in advance. And it’s one of the reasons that the UK has got itself into this much, much better situation. It’s important that continues. And I’m going to ask Jenny to comment on the supply and the rest of it.
Thank you. Well, I think the important thing here is, as the Transport Secretary said, we have had brilliant uptake in vaccine in this country. And in fact, we are probably the leading country for vaccine confidence. People are very confident to come forward and they should be, and you can see that in the data that we have around our case rates, this is making a really strong impact. We’re guaranteed to offer a first dose of vaccine to every adult by the end of July. There will be some assurance as we go through on the vaccine production, but we’re still on track to do that.
And of course, we’re just coming into vaccinating the younger age groups, the under 40s. So I think it would be wrong of us to jump to conclusions that the younger people will not take up the vaccine. They have been brilliant in stepping forward to comply. For example, students with regulations last autumn. So I think we should just wait and see. I think we have every confidence that people will step forward and do that. And I think they will be encouraged by the fact that we now have a long record of doing so in this country.
Grant Shapps: (19:35)
It has been absolutely tremendous and long may it continue. I’m going to go to Nicola in Surrey. Nicola says the first two vaccines were approved for use very quickly, but this process seems to have stalled for the other potential vaccines. Why? Well, we know that actually a third vaccine, Moderna, was also approved and, I think, in use. But again, Jenny, you’re probably best.
Yes. Thank you. So, I mean, the remarkable thing actually is that we have three approved vaccines for a new virus within the short timeframe that we have, and they have all undergone the appropriate safety checks and the continued reporting, which you will see through MHRA. I don’t think we can say it’s stalled at all. We have good progress through. And it’s important, of course, that each step is taken. It’s not just the scientists that propose these to go through. It’s also when trials are finished and clearly it’s important that we take note of those studies. So I think other potential vaccines on the way. It varies slightly across the world, but in fact, that offer of the first vaccine to every adult by the end of July should still be in place for the vaccines that we have.
Grant Shapps: (20:42)
I think it’s worth saying, as well, the vaccine task force that went out and spent so much time and energy procuring, I think the last figure I saw was something like 570 million vaccines, has put us in a very good position because it means that we’ve got a variety of different vaccine candidates that we’re able to bring in, including announcements about factories, which are producing more here, including in the Northeast. But very much a collective effort, including with the public taking up vaccines in such large numbers.
Yeah. And just adding to that, of course, one of the other things that is happening is around looking to check that we have vaccines available going forward against variants of coronavirus and investment in probably how things important down labs there recently to make sure that we can assess the effectiveness of our current vaccines against new variants, which is just as important, I think, as what we have currently.
Grant Shapps: (21:36)
Thank you to Nicola in Surrey. We’ll go to Caroline Davis at the BBC next.
Caroline Davis: (21:42)
Thank you, Transport Secretary. Firstly, there are only 12 countries and territories on this list. Many passengers will be very disappointed by that, as will the industry. Why are there so few? And secondly, you’ve put Turkey on the red list. What does that mean for the UEFA Champions League Final that’s due to be played there?
Grant Shapps: (21:58)
Thanks very much. Look, as I explained in my comments, we are having to be cautious about this initially. We don’t want to overturn all the brilliant work of, frankly, the British people taking these vaccines and staying at home and all of that pain. So we can’t do anything to put that at risk. Having said that, although there are only 12 countries and territories, it does include for example, Portugal and some of its islands, popular holiday destinations, including Israel who will start to accept people from outside the country, I think, it’s on the 21st of May. But I do accept that it is a slow, but very deliberate, rollout of this. And I noted that Heathrow, for example, who you might think would jump on your comments, actually agree that this is the right approach and that the steady slow process initially is the right way to go.
Grant Shapps: (22:52)
It’s worth pointing out. There were two separate points at which we’ll have reviews. First of all, the Joint Biosecurity Centre will review this data every three weeks. And so we will have another review point along pretty soon. The second thing to say is we’ve got checkpoints built into this. The checkpoints mean that we’re looking at what has to happen in a green, amber, or red in terms of [inaudible 00:23:19] for testing and so on and so forth. So this will be a fast developing situation, but really, the key thing to say is there [inaudible 00:23:28] aren’t more places on the list is there aren’t more places that are in the fortunate position that the United Kingdom has got itself in. As Jenny says, people coming forward for vaccines. As I was saying, the vaccine task force and the government doing such strong work a year ago to make sure we were ahead of the world in terms of having those vaccines.
Grant Shapps: (23:47)
So if you’re looking for the answer, it is simply that the rest of the world needs a bit of time to catch up with our more fortunate vaccine position before we’ll be able to open up travel to those locations. You ask a very good question about the situation with regard to UEFA and the situation for Turkey. And as I said in my comments, I’m afraid we are having to put Turkey on the red list and this will have a number of ramifications. First of all, it does mean, I’m afraid, with regard to the Champions League, that fans should not travel to Turkey. The FA, I can tell you, are in discussions with UEFA already on this.
Grant Shapps: (24:27)
We are very open to hosting the final, but it is ultimately a decision for a UEFA. Of course, it’s worth mentioning, the UK has already got a successful track record of football matches with spectators. So we’re well placed to do it. And I have spoken to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sports this afternoon about this. So we’re very open to it. It is actually, in the end, a decision for UEFA to make. But given that there are two English clubs in that final, we look forward to hearing what they have to say. Thank you very much indeed. I’ll turn now to Tom Clarke at ITV.
Tom Clarke: (25:09)
Thank you, Secretary of State. While we worry about where we might be able to travel to, the virus is proving it’s pretty capable of traveling into the UK. How concerned are you and should we be about the doubling of the number of variants of concern originating in India here in the UK? And how concerned should we be about the Indian variants compared to those from South Africa and Brazil, for example?
Grant Shapps: (25:35)
So there’s two places to our answers. One is, of course, with the excellent border protection that Paul Lincoln and his team are providing, which is helping us to keep on top of variants of concern. The second thing is now that the variant in India is a variant of concern rather than a variant of interest, which it has been up until recently, I’m going to ask Jenny to comment on the epidemiological situation.
Thank you. So I think, yes, we should be concerned and I’ll come to the action that we’re taking.
I think, yes, we should be concerned, and I’ll come to the action that we’re taking, but there is quite a complicated message here, I think. So it’s a good sign. We’ve seen the slides there and our overall positivity rates have dropped dramatically, but in some areas, there are some variants of concern, particularly the Indian one, which have risen quite sharply in the last week or two. So those areas, we really do want people to be extra cautious. Again, it’s important just because that particular one, so the B16172, one of the three variants that we’re seeing from India, has increased quite rapidly. The other two, the one under the three number are still variants under interest. And when we move them to a variant of concern, it’s because we find something in how they’re behaving or some of the mutation that we think might give some cause for concern, either particularly in vaccine escape, severity of disease, or transmissibility.
Now, what we have with this particular Indian variant at the moment is that we found yesterday, the technical group, the variant technical group, that the transmissibility was at least equal to the, what we’ve been calling, the Kemp variant. It’s the B117. It’s actually very widespread, but people will recognize it by that name. And we don’t yet know many other characteristics about it. It takes quite a while to understand, for example, the severity of disease or what it means for vaccine effectiveness. So while we’re watching that, actually we are taking a whole host of steps to ensure that in areas where we have seen that, we have enhanced contact tracing. We’re in with messaging, working with local communities, with local directors of public health, to ensure that people are really aware of the potential risks.
We’re encouraging people to continue to work from home. All the things we know, socialize outdoors, even if the situation and the rules change. It’s really important people continue to do that. And this is likely to be a bit of a pattern as we go forward. So we need the public to do everything that they have been doing in sticking to the rules, but in those particular areas, to be being particularly careful, and we will continue to monitor it. I think one of the important things is the UK has absolutely brilliant genomics. We contribute about a third of the total global genomic sequences that put up on [inaudible 00:28:29]. And so we have a very, very clear picture of what we have in terms of variants of concern and under investigation.
Grant Shapps: (28:37)
As of course, the reason why we’re taking variants of concern so seriously is one of the reasons in response to the previous BBC question that we’re not opening up too fast because we want to be in a position to control it. And it’s one of the reasons why Paul Lincoln and his team are checking 100% of people at borders, although that will increasingly on the green list countries, start to a digital check through the e-gate and the passenger locator form over time.
Grant Shapps: (29:05)
Can we go to Paul Kelso of Sky?
Grant Shapps: (29:19)
We can see you there, Paul. I don’t know if you can hear us or not.
Paul Kelso: (29:25)
I can now. Can you hear me now?
Grant Shapps: (29:27)
Loud and clear.
Paul Kelso: (29:29)
We know that the travel industry is desperate to get restarted. Gatwick, where I am, is deserted, but we’ve seen already prices starting to soar as a result of speculation around this myth. And we know travel companies are declining to offer refunds, even for people with preexisting reservations, the countries on your orange list. Is this system simply making travel the preserve of the rich? And if I may, with respect, a fortnight in the Falklands isn’t most people’s idea of a summer holiday. Is it realistic to think that this year we will see the return of mass travel to Spain to France and other really popular destinations, as opposed to this tiny list of many islands?
Grant Shapps: (30:10)
Thanks very much. Look, Paul, the first thing is that it’s very important that people do check the terms and conditions of booking very, very carefully. You mentioned travel companies and what people would have called travel agents, but perhaps in the past. It is the case that if you’re booking a package, for example, I’ve extended the ability of people to get, not just refunds, but also travel vouchers, which will be guaranteed through the scheme that people know of as Atol. So that a voucher can be given, perhaps creates a little bit less stress on the travel company for those refunds, the package holiday, but at the same time provides the reassurance for consumers, whereas previously providing cash back was the only option. So the government’s tried to back the industry in that sense.
Grant Shapps: (30:57)
But it is possible for people to book direct. We do know that sometimes that that may lead to problems. And certainly I’ve had a lot, plenty of people in the last year contact me in that position. So please check very, very carefully when it comes to terms and conditions. And I note now that a lot of the travel companies and a lot of the airlines have put some very smart packages in place, enabling people to change, for example, the time of their flight, the date of their flight without a cost for doing so, but check.
Grant Shapps: (31:26)
Secondly, does it become the reserve of the rich? And do you want to holiday in the Falklands? Look, this is not a list generated and created to, if you like, think about where people want to lie on beaches, and then twist the science to fit it, that would be completely wrong. It would go against everything that we have said about … In fact, it would betray the sort of what everyone has gone through for the last year, the sacrifices that people have made, staying home, going to get the vaccine when called, the enormous national effort. If we were, then, to throw it all away and just say, “Well, we’ll add some holiday destinations,” and we cannot do that. And I hope people will, I think people will appreciate and understand that.
Grant Shapps: (32:10)
What we can, and will do though, is review the list very regularly. And Jenny will correct me if I’m wrong, but you mentioned 12 fatalities, deaths per day on a seven day running average. When I came in, I checked where France is, I think it’s about 220 fatalities per day. We just need to give other places in the world a chance to catch up in some of those places are the locations where people will want to go on holiday.
Grant Shapps: (32:38)
So to answer your last question about whether we’ll see mass travel or not, look, I think we will gradually see an opening up. We see that the vaccines are extremely effective, but what we can’t do, and what we don’t know is the extent to which somebody who is vaccinated might still be capable of carrying a variant of concern back with them. And we cannot put the British people at risk in that way. So it’s a gentle gradual thing. As I mentioned before, Heathrow and others are welcoming the steps today. It is a first step, but it’s a very deliberate one with some clear review points in there as well. Jenny, I don’t know if there’s anything.
I think you’ve mentioned all the important things. It is just really important, as you said earlier, that we progress with necessary caution and you can see, I mean, I think the public will have realized just from looking at the picture in India, just how quickly a virus can take off, particularly if there is a low vaccine coverage in those countries, or you have a large number of people without spacing and all of the things that we’ve got used to doing. So obviously that varies significantly across the world, but there is a regular review point. The Joint Bio Security Center has a very detailed exploration of all of the different criteria. So whether it be testing capacity, whether it be the capability of a country to look at the genome sequencing, whole host of things that we didn’t have last year. So I think a lot of reassurance that all of this is looked at in great detail, and as countries are able to move into those different traffic light areas, then ministers will be able to make those decisions.
Grant Shapps: (34:18)
I think it’s worth actually saying, as Jenny hinted at, the Joint Bio Security Center last year would use pretty blunt information, really. It was about the number of cases per a hundred thousand, over a seven day period. This year, it’s about not just the prevalence of cases, it’s about the variance of concern. It’s about the ability of the country to test the quality of their data, how good their genome sequencing is. And I think reassuringly, Paul, all of that’s going to be published this year, but the methodology and the data so people can see themselves, how and why the particular countries and territories that are being included at the moment are in the air. I think that will be helpful for everyone. Thanks very much, Paul. Can we go to Lucy Fisher of the Telegraph?
Caroline Davis: (35:07)
Thank you. Two quick questions, if I may, firstly, for Mr. Lincoln, will Border Force deploy more staff to ease delays at the border? And if so, how many? And secondly, a question for the transport secretary, please. Vaccinated Britain’s are allowed to travel to other countries without having to take expensive COVID tests or quarantine, but UK government insists on these measures from vaccinated travelers. Why doesn’t the government have faith in the vaccine? And will this policy be reviewed?
Grant Shapps: (35:39)
Thanks very much, Lucy. Paul?
Paul Lincoln: (35:41)
Yes. Thank you, Lucy. I mean, we will. And I said, in my opinion statement, that we will be increasing the number of Border Force officers who will be available to process passengers at immigration desks. I mean, I should put this in the context that there are currently, at the moment, more Border Force officers processing passengers that Heathrow than any other time since 2012 Olympics. And the reason why people talk about this is because we have had to deal with a lot of non-compliant passengers and that sometimes takes Border Force officers away. So what I’m very pleased to have announced today is the simplification of the processes we’ve put in place, which should make it easier for passengers, for make it easier for carriers. It should make it easier for our officers and do our best to speed people through the border.
Grant Shapps: (36:22)
Thanks very much. In answer to your second point about vaccinated Brits being allowed to travel to other countries. Actually, when I look around the world, and as I mentioned in my comments, I chaired a meeting of the G7, the group of seven Secretary’s of State for Transport in the week. And actually, they don’t have systems in place for travel yet. They haven’t launched their equivalence of the Global Travel Task Force, nor do they have traffic light systems. Actually by and large, because we have managed to vaccinate a high proportion of the population faster than other countries, we’re also ahead in terms of this unlocked program, both the wider roadmap of which the 17th of May and the 21st of June or the third and fourth moments, but also in terms of unlocking travel.
Grant Shapps: (37:07)
But you ask a really interesting question about, well, if you’ve been double vaccinated, why shouldn’t you be able to go travel? And it’s a question, of course, we’re asking all the time. And again, actually, I’m going to lean on that advice there from Jenny, because I think it’s one of the things, questions that scientists are having to tackle most at the moment.
So thank you. So I think from what I’ve said previously, we are learning a lot about the vaccine. So we’re very confident that for most variants out there at the moment, the vaccines that we’re using will prevent, protect the individual from serious disease, and from hospitalization. We think, also, that there is a degree of effectiveness in vaccine transmission. And there was some media on that, I think, at the beginning of last week. However, there are two particular points. One is that is not a complete picture. So some people, well, all vaccine programs actually, that will not work for every single individual. So we encourage as many people as possible to reduce the chance of disease being around. But we don’t yet have absolute clarity, I think, on the transmission risk. And that continues to be the case as new variants arise. So we know, as I’ve said previously, there are thousands of variants. And we, every now and again, they’re not all the significance. Many will appear and die down again and being of no concern at all.
But the South African variant, of course, we’ve done, that has risen a little bit in the UK, but has been recently contained. Each of these actually suggest that there is a little lowering of the effect of the vaccine in that case and each new variant, we’re looking to make sure that vaccines continue to be effective. So as a new variant arises, if you’re going over to another country, particularly if they have lower genomic sequencing capabilities, they’re very unlikely to know what they have in their population, and individuals will potentially bring it back to this one.
… and individuals will potentially bring it back to this one. And one of the important points I would just like to make is, when travelers are coming back, it is absolutely critical that they have their early tests, their PCR tests. So they have one before they leave the other country, if they’re positive, they must comply with local isolation regulations. But when they come back into this country, they must have a PCR test up to day two, so in that very early phase.
What that does is, firstly, we know whether they are sick and whether they need to isolate, but actually they are contributing not just to the UK knowledge about the growth of variants from different countries, but to the global knowledge about it. So we can sequence where others can’t, we contribute that information to global knowledge, and then the whole world learns to protect themselves better. So, really important to have that test.
Grant Shapps: (39:50)
Thanks very much, Jenny. And Lucy, I’d just say, “We’ve come so far, we just don’t want to mess this up now,” I think would be the shorthand for all of that, and the scientists are working hard on getting the hard data to back it up. Thank you very much. If I can go to Torcuil Crichton from the Daily Record, please.
Thank you, minister. Can you provide some clarity? You talk about travelers from England and your press release talks about England. You don’t have Four Nations agreement for this, by the sounds of it. And if you don’t, it’s a bit of a farce, isn’t it? If I have a reader in Fife who wants to go to Faro, and they’re not allowed to travel from a Scottish airport, they just jump on a train to Heathrow and they jump a red light. It undermines, the UK, Four Nation approach, doesn’t it.
Grant Shapps: (40:37)
So, first of all, I should let you know that held a call with the devolved administrations earlier today, and all of the four chief medical officers of the Joint Biosecurity Center have met and agreed the principles that sit behind the traffic light system. So there is a large degree of agreement and cooperation in developing the system. I think more to your point, there happen to be elections on, or rather election counts, in Wales and Scotland at the moment. And so understandably, whilst those governments are in flux, and there aren’t effective opposite numbers to speak to, it may take a few days for them to prescribe precisely what they wish to do, but it is with their agreement that the, if you like, the traffic light system itself has been created.
Grant Shapps: (41:27)
And as we saw last year, I suspect that, by and large, we’ll see the same conclusions, for the simple reason that the science is the science. The epidemiological situation is that, that presents to us all. And since we’re working from the same traffic light system, it stands to reason it will be broadly similar in design. So, that’s the picture we look forward to there being governments in place in both Wales and Scotland, and to having as joined-up picture as possible.
Grant Shapps: (41:59)
Just on your final point though, I would say what you pointed out is, it’s possible for people to break the law. Of course it’s possible, people break the law in all sorts of different ways, but people should respect the law as it is legislated in our devolved system of government throughout the Four Nations. And so we must never encourage anybody to, as you describe it, break the law, jump on a train and do something which they should not be doing. And presumably it would carry some pretty big fines if they were to do so.
Grant Shapps: (42:28)
Thanks very much. I’ll turn now to Jim Scott, at the Northern Echo. Jim.
Thank you. As the country exits the national lockdown, and as more restrictions are eased, there will inevitably be an increase in cases. But if there is a spike in COVID infections in one particular region, such as the Northeast, is the government likely to consider preventing residents in that area from traveling abroad?
Grant Shapps: (42:52)
As we come out of this lockdown, we’ve got this four-stage roadmap. And as you know, and will have noted, we haven’t gone back into a tiered situation. That’s possible, actually, because overall our levels are so much lower and where they’re low overall, or where the prevalence is low, you’re able to take a much more national approach to all of this. And I very much hope, Jim, and I’m going to ask Jenny to comment, but we’re not going back to those bad old days of very high levels of enormous prevalence, and the rest of it, because we’ve got the one thing that we didn’t have, when we got down to these very low levels last time round, and that is, of course, the vaccine.
Grant Shapps: (43:36)
Actually, I said the one, that’s the second thing, which is mass testing. Every adult in this country, every secondary child in this country can have two tests a week, free, delivered to their homes. And millions of people are taking up that offer and it’s helping us to identify where there are problems. So we are much better positioned this year, with vaccines, with testing, with genomic sequencing, to not need to take that localized approach. And so far so good, but I’m going to hand over to an expert here.
It’s a really important question, but I think the ambition is exactly as the Transport Secretary has said, that we know that there have been certain areas, which I think we now would frame as where there has been enduring transmission, and it’s those populations who have really had to be locked down for very lengthy periods of time. And that’s not just unhelpful for them, and a bit miserable for them during that time, but actually it will affect the health of those populations in the longer term as well. If they’ve had higher rates of COVID, potentially long COVID implications, and implications for the viability and the health of their families long-term, so missed school and all sorts of things.
So I think our approach at the moment is to actually really focus on those areas of enduring transmission in a number of ways. Working with directors of public health and local authorities. There are a number of different community testing programs, so that where we see those higher rates, to go into help support individuals, to find infections and to help them to isolate. Many of these families are ones with perhaps where they’re more likely to have to go out to work, or they’re in large families, it’s less easy to isolate. And there are a number of ways which local authorities can support them, with central government funding, through the Communities Fund to do that. But it’s a really good point, and it is actually our focus of attention as we come out of the lockdowns, and really focus as we go forward.
And once again, just encourage, if individuals are in areas where there are variants of concern, really, to be extra careful in those until those rates have subsided.
Grant Shapps: (45:43)
Jenny, thanks very much indeed. I just wanted to end by saying, I could never have imagined when I became Secretary of State for Transport, that I would be responsible for locking down all international travel, indeed, most of the domestic travel network as well. And I’m pleased that we’re finally in the position of opening up. I’ve been looking forward to today, or a day like today, for a very long time, but we do have to follow a very cautious approach. We’ve got to follow the science at every step. We don’t want to throw away the very hard won gains. But I think, as confidence builds, as the rest of the world is able to catch up with our successful vaccination program and get themselves vaccinated, I expect that we will see a situation where more countries will open up. But please check the details carefully, look on gov.uk, and make sure that you have refundable options. And most of all, of course, remain safe.
Grant Shapps: (46:34)
Thank you very much. Thank you.