Dominic Raab has played down the benefits of Covid-19 testing at airports, amid Labour calls for industry-damaging quarantines to be reviewed.
The Foreign Secretary said there is “no silver bullet” in airports and the government hopes at some stage to “ease up” on the requirements for people to self-isolate at home for 14 days after returning from certain countries.
Labour, in a letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel, argued the “dire warnings” from the travel sector about the use of “chaotic” blanket self-isolation advice meant it was time to review the methods being used to prevent the spread of Covid-19 from those arriving in the UK.
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said a “robust testing regime in airports” could minimise the need for those returning from countries with high coronavirus prevalence to quarantine for two weeks.
He suggested a “two test system”, citing Iceland as an example where people are tested on arrival and then again after five days have elapsed.
If a person produces two negative results then their quarantine can end, the Labour MP said.
Mr Thomas-Symonds also voiced “serious concerns” about the low level of monitoring of incoming travellers, claiming “less than a third of passenger locator forms are checked”.
But Mr Raab, when pressed about airport testing, told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show: “Let’s just be clear about this when we think about airports – there is no silver bullet in airports.
“The current data suggests that the success rate of positively identifying people with Covid with a test in the airport is less than 10%.”
Put to him that those numbers increase if passengers are then tested again seven days later, Mr Raab said: “There is no silver bullet in the airport alone and that’s why we have the quarantine.
“So, the direction of travel will be making sure we have the capacity and the ability for when the time is right to ease up on the self-isolation at home, and that’s certainly something that we’ll be looking at.
“But we couldn’t – and I think Labour have got themselves into a terrible muddle on this – the idea that one test in an airport could resolve the quarantine issues… we couldn’t safely do that.
“We’re not going to let up on a measure which is crucial for keeping the virus under control.”
Mr Thomas-Symonds also raised concerns over the Government’s approach for the return of students to universities.
He told the same programme: “It’s clearly a huge logistical exercise to move a million people and that’s what we’re talking about in terms of students.
“I’m afraid there is a running theme with the government – there has to be a strategy and plan in place, whether we’re talking about a return to offices, care homes earlier in the year, whether we’re now talking about universities.
“What we need going forward is to ensure we do have the test, track and isolate strategy properly set up.”
Facebook’s head of communications Sir Nick Clegg, former Liberal Democrat deputy prime minister, was challenged about the social media giant’s response to dealing with anti-vaccination posts.
He told the same programme: “When there is a vaccine, when that is officially sanctioned, of course companies like Facebook want to actively work with the NHS and the Department of Health to make sure people know what is available to them, and Facebook has the reach to do that.”