Digitise test results and upgrade e-gates at airports to defend against new Covid variants

  • Cross-party group of MPs demands e-gate upgrades at airports must be implemented before international travel is opened up further, to reduce queues and waiting times in arrival halls. 

  • Digital ‘Covid Green Pass’ for international travel should include test results to reduce the need for paper documents at UK airports.

  • Government urged to consider measures to reduce the cost of tests such as a VAT exemption or price caps.

  • MPs warn the government must learn lessons from the rapid rise in cases of the Delta variant and “ensure its border policy is watertight.” 

A cross-party group of MPs has called on the government to urgently upgrade e-gates to ensure they are compatible with a digital Covid certificate, warning that “international travel cannot resume safely” until this has taken place.

It comes after the APPG heard evidence from the Airports Operators Association warning that the government’s current deadline to upgrade e-Gates by Autumn was “preposterous”, and that digitisation should have taken place “before the summer.” In a report published today (Monday 21 June) the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) warns that “current measures put in place at UK entry points by the UK government are not sufficient to address the threat of importation of new variants.” 

The report recommends that a digital ‘Covid Green Pass’ for international travel should display proof of a negative Covid test in addition to showing vaccination status, to reduce the need for paper documents that are more easily forged and contribute to long queues in airport arrival halls.  The report adds that because vaccination does not fully protect against carrying and passing on new variants of Covid-19, a negative PCR test for inbound travellers should continue to be required for the time being. It says this requirement should remain in place until a high level of vaccination is attained globally, reducing the risk of new variants emerging.

In addition, the report calls on the UK government to consider measures to reduce the cost of PCR tests such as VAT exemptions, capping test prices and exploring whether the NHS can build the capacity to carry out tests for international travel. It also suggests that any ‘Covid Green Pass’ should be integrated with the NHS app, and that the government should aim to make it compatible with international systems such as the EU’s Digital Covid Certificate. Finally the cross-party group is emphasising that proposals for a ‘Covid Green Pass’ should be implemented across all four nations of the UK, to ensure passengers don’t have to download different apps depending on where they are travelling from within the UK.

The report is based on evidence received at the APPG’s hearing with expert witnesses on Tuesday 4 May 2021. The session heard how paper-based documentation for international travel is more susceptible to fraud and contributes to lengthy airport queues which “at the moment are unacceptable from a welfare perspective but also from a safety and security perspective”.

Henk van Klaveren from the Airport Operators Association warned MPs of “queues out onto the tarmac in certain airports because the Border Force is simply not able to cope with the limited resources that they are putting at the border.” Meanwhile, when discussing his return to the uK from a recent trip to Cote D'Ivoire, Paul Nuki, Global Health Security Editor at The Telegraph said: “the paperwork that needed to be presented wasn’t a simple digital pass which pinged yes or no.. It’s problematic from a health point of view and from a consumer confidence point of view…” MPs also heard from Dr Tolullah Oni, an epidemiologist at the University of Cambridge, who warned that vaccines are not a “silver bullet”. The APPG is calling for a Covid Green Pass to be used as part of a broader strategy to keep the virus under control.

 

Caroline Lucas MP, Vice-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, said: 

“The rapid growth of the Delta variant has shown how we must be vigilant against the risks posed by international travel. Yet despite repeated warnings, ministers are still failing to address overcrowding at airports or fake test certificates that are allowing Covid cases to slip through the cracks.

“Upgrading e-gates and digitising test results would reduce the risk of transmission in airports and ensure we are no longer relying solely on border force officials to spot fraudulent documents. The government must learn from its mistakes and ensure its border policy is watertight.” 

Layla Moran MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, said: 

“Any digital Covid Green Pass for international travel should include test results in addition to vaccination status to better defend against new variants. The government must not yet again allow international travel to jeopardise the hard-won progress we’ve made against the virus.

“Once this is in place, the government should also consider measures to reduce the costs of tests such as a VAT exemption or a price cap, as has been done in other European countries. Until we vaccinate the world, testing will remain crucial to our efforts to detect new variants and keep the virus under control.”

ENDS

Press contact: Grace Pritchard 

[email protected] 

07964840387

Notes to Editor

A transcript of the evidence session held on Tuesday 4 May 2021 can be found here, a video of the session is available here.

The APPG on Coronavirus, made up of over 70 MPs and peers is carrying out an ongoing cross-party inquiry into the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and has so far held 23 oral evidence sessions and made over 40 recommendations. The group first called for Covid screening and quarantine measures at UK borders in August last year.

The full APPG report published today can be found attached. It makes the following recommendations:

  • The Covid Green Pass must contain and display proof of a negative Covid-19 PCR test via a simple ‘green/red’ system and QR code. Vaccination status alone should not be sufficient for international travel, and should be combined with a negative PCR test in order to provide the strongest possible protections against Covid variants being imported into the UK. This should remain in place until a high level of vaccination is attained globally.

  • The Covid Green Pass should be integrated with the currently available NHS app. The government should work with the NHS to ensure that wherever possible data used on the Covid Green Pass is held by the health service.

  • The UK government should ensure that a Covid Green Pass is compatible and fully integrated with e-gates at UK entry points. International travel cannot resume safely until e-gate integration is completed.

  • The UK government should, once international travel can resume safely, consider measures to reduce the cost of PCR tests such as VAT exemptions, capping test prices and exploring whether the NHS can build the capacity to carry out tests for international travel.

  • The UK government should aim to ensure the implementation of a digital Covid Green Pass is compatible with other international systems such as the European Union Covid Green Certificate.

Research by Public Health England has found that those who become infected 3 weeks after receiving one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or AstraZeneca vaccine were between 38% and 49% less likely to pass the virus on to their household contacts than those who were unvaccinated. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/one-dose-of-covid-19-vaccine-can-cut-household-transmission-by-up-to-half 

Previous research from the travel association ABTA and the Airport Operators Association has found the average costs of a PCR test across Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain, was just £62. Government subsidies in those countries and rules capping prices have contributed to the lower prices.