Scottish Transport Secretary Michael Matheson claims the UK Government is “undermining” Scotland’s tougher quarantine rules by failing to close a loophole which exists.
Mr Matheson accused the UK Government of “undermining” the “potential benefits” of Scotland’s tougher quarantine rules and is “pursuing an option we already know is not effective”.
Under new quarantine rules being introduced from 4am on Monday all international arrivals in Scotland will have to quarantine on arrival to the country, with the transport secretary confirming six hotels have been booked in Scotland, including one near to Aberdeen Airport.
However, in England only travellers arriving from so-called “red list” countries will be required to do so, creating a loophole that would allow people to enter the UK through an English airport before travelling to Scotland to avoid tougher restrictions north of the border.
‘UK Government undermining Scotland’s public health approach’
Speaking to BBC Scotland’s The Sunday Show, Mr Matheson said the UK Government is “undermining” the public health approach taken in Scotland.
He argued that the scientific and clinical advice, including from Sage, is “very clear”, that everyone entering the country from abroad should enter a quarantine facility.
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The MSP said the Scottish Government has called on their UK counterparts to ensure that space is made available for those entering English airports for travelling onto Scotland to enter a quarantine facility in England before they make their onward journey but so far no agreement has been reached.
He added that another option would be to get details from the UK Government and insist that travellers report to a quarantine hotel when they arrive in Scotland.
But Mr Matheson said these individuals could “potentially” use public transport and spread new variants amongst the population.
The UK Government said those who fly into an English airport, from a non “red list” country can transit to Scotland, but must follow the quarantine rules of the devolved nation and isolate on arrival.
He told the BBC: “They (the UK Government) want to go down the red listed countries route which we’ve already been told by the Joint Biosecurity Centre is not effective and it doesn’t work.
“Therefore it is a system that will not stop new variants coming into the country, which is why we have listened to the clinical advice and put in place the most comprehensive system we can within Scotland and we’d ask the UK Government to follow us in doing that.”
He added that the UK Government is “undermining the potential benefits we can get from the approach we’ve taken” and admitted he would expect restrictions on international travel for “some months to come”.
‘Border checks operationally very challenging’
On border checks, the transport secretary said this would be operationally “very challenging” to implement with “thousands of vehicles” using that route each day.
It follows Health Secretary Jeane Freeman warning that “serious thought” must be given to introducing border checks to stop travellers entering Scotland by landing elsewhere in the UK.
Mr Matheson confirmed six hotels have been selected to house travellers arriving in Scotland with three close to Edinburgh Airport, two close to Glasgow Airport and one near to Aberdeen Airport.
He added that “a number” would be operational from Monday.
Two international flights, from Bergen and Stavanger in Norway – both related to the oil and gas industry – are scheduled to arrive at Aberdeen International Airport on the first day of the new restrictions.
A small number of people travelling to Scotland do not need to enter managed isolation.
Some of them must still self-isolate at home or another place they specify on the Passenger Locator Form, but may leave isolation to undertake essential activities.
According to the Scottish Government’s exemption guidance, specialist technical workers in downstream oil and gas and offshore oil and gas are permitted to leave isolation for “essential activities” if they arrive from countries not on the “acute list”.
On the possibility of quarantine passports, Mr Matheson said this is hindered by governments not yet understanding the efficacy of the vaccines and new variants.
He said future vaccine certification will “play a part” in restoring international connectivity and travel but it is “not a replacement for a comprehensive quarantine system”.
Under the new rules, travellers will be required to fill out a passenger locator form, which is a Home Office form identifying where the individual is arriving from and travelling to.
They will also need to complete a pre-departure negative Covid-19 test, to be carried out at least 72 hours before flying, and to book the necessary quarantine arrangements will advance of arrival in Scotland.
Talking through the process, Mr Matheson said: “When you arrive at the airport Border Force will check all three of these, and once you have gone through the border point, you will be met by security who will then take you to baggage reclaim and then onto transport which will take you directly to the hotel you’ve been allocated.”
A UK Government spokeswoman said: “We have taken action to limit the spread of coronavirus and, to raise our defences against new strains, we have put in place some of the toughest border regimes in the world.
“As we have said throughout the pandemic, you must follow the rules set by the relevant devolved administration when in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
“Those arriving into England can transit onto Scotland but must follow the quarantine and self-isolation rules of the devolved administration on arrival.”