Sajid Javid reportedly warned members of the cabinet against the relaxation of Covid international travel rules, arguing it increased the risk of having to shut down the entire economy.
The health secretary was said to have made the intervention during a meeting of the Covid operations committee earlier this week and suggested keeping the requirement for post-arrival PCR tests was vital in detecting new variants.
It comes after Boris Johnson announced this week that testing requirements for fully vaccinated arrivals into the UK would be eased, including the removal of the pre-departure tests — a move that was welcomed by the tourism industry.
From Sunday, travellers will also be required to take a post-arrival lateral flow test — purchased from a private provider — instead of the current requirement to take a PCR laboratory test on day two of arriving back in the country.
The prime minister argued that pre-departure tests “discourages many from travelling for fear of being trapped overseas and incurring significant extra expense”.
But according to The Times, Mr Javid strong opposed the relaxation and warned senior ministers present at a meeting earlier this week that PCR requirement was “instrumental” in detecting new variants sooner when people enter the country.
“Sajid was very unhappy about the decision to remove the requirement for PCR tests,” a government source told the newspaper.
They added: “He argued they are instrumental in spotting new variants sooner. He said that by scrapping them you increase the risk of having to shut down the entire economy. But he lost the argument.”
Asked why Mr Johnson decided to relax rules after Mr Javid’s comments during a Covid-O meeting, the prime minister’s official spokesperson told journalists on Friday: “I don’t think you’d expect me to comment on private meetings.
“But ministers collectively agreed to these changes to our international travel rules, including the changes around day two PCR testing — given that we feel they are no longer proportionate given that Omicron is the dominant variant in the UK with widespread community transmission.”
They added: “I’d also highlight we maintained the requirement for passengers to take post-arrival lateral flow tests, and if that test is positive they will still need to take a PCR test which will help us identify variants.”
Pressed on Mr Javid’s reported comments, the business minister Paul Scully also told Sky News: “I don’t believe at this stage that we need any more lockdowns.
“What we are doing today is announcing the fact that the money for hospitality, retail, leisure and accommodation is available now for those businesses who have been hard-pressed throughout this pandemic, and especially that Christmas period when plan B came in, for those businesses to be able to approach their local authorities and get the financial support they need.
“But what we’ve got to do is make sure we can balance the needs of everybody in what is an incredibly difficult situation – the pressures on the NHS, but also the pressures on the economy, the pressures on households, jobs, livelihoods, and indeed money that is coming in to pay for the public services in the first place.”