Department for Transport permanent secretary Bernadette Kelly has admitted that the special category of quarantine rules introduced for travellers returning from France has made the government’s “traffic light” system for nations harder for people to understand.
Kelly was quizzed about the toughened requirements to prevent the spread of coronavirus, which took effect on Sunday with little advance warning, by parliament’s Public Accounts Committee yesterday. The new category represents an addition to the “red”, “amber” and “green” groups into which destinations have been placed since May to signify the quarantine measures that travellers must comply with on their return to England.
PAC member Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said the public wanted clear messages and that introducing a fourth light in the traffic light system had the potential to be a “recipe for chaos”.
He asked Kelly: “Are we likely to see any more fourth lights, or are we going to see a rainbow of all the colours with joy for everybody, but perhaps an illusory crock of gold at the end of it?”
Kelly acknowledged Clifton-Brown’s concerns and explained that the special quarantine category created for those coming from France was a direct response to the presence of the beta variant of Covid-19 in that nation.
“What we have done here with France is introduce an exemption to the red traffic light, which nonetheless requires people who’ve been double-vaccinated to quarantine on arrival,” she said.
“I agree it does add some complications. What we are doing now is urgently ensuring that what we have is a system that is as effective, and something that people can understand as possible.
“I understand the gist of your question. Clearly it was felt that in light of concerns about the beta variant and its prevalence in France, this was a necessary step.”
People entering England from nations on the red list of countires are required to quarrantine for 10 days in a specially designated hotel. Fully-vaccinated travellers returning from amber-list countries do not need to self isloate for 10 days, unless their post-travel Covid tests return positive results, but the France-specific rule removes that entitlement.
Kelly said DfT’s preference was for “a system that is as comprehensible and straightforward as we can make it”.
She declined to comment on whether the new quarantine rules for those entering England from France were unnecessarily cautious for those travellers who have had both doses of the Covid vaccine.
“I’m not going to second guess public-health professionals and the advice that is driving some of this decision making,” the perm sec said.
“I’m not the chief medical officer or scientific adviser. I think the issue, as I understand it, is how effective some of the vaccines – most notably AstraZeneca – are against the beta variant, so it is linked to the particular efficacy of certain vaccines to certain variants, and that’s what’s driving decision-making here on public health grounds.
“I don’t think it’s for me to second guess that. What we’re trying to do from the department’s perspective is to strike a sensible balance between allowing people to travel, where it’s safe to do so.”
Clifton-Brown’s questions came ahead of a PAC session looking into the over-budget and three-years-late Crossrail project.