Border officials finding '100 fake Covid test certificates a day'

Lizzie Roberts
·4 min read
Around 100 fake Covid test certificates are being discovered at the border everyday, in what experts have branded a "very leaky" system, it has emerged.   - Getty /Ian Vogler - Pool
Around 100 fake Covid test certificates are being discovered at the border everyday, in what experts have branded a "very leaky" system, it has emerged. - Getty /Ian Vogler - Pool

Around 100 fake Covid test certificates are being discovered at the border everyday, in what experts have branded a "very leaky" system, it has emerged.

The fake documents claiming a traveller has a recent negative test result are "very easy" to forge, MPs have been told, and there is no way to tell how many more are being missed.

Lucy Moreton, professional officer for the Immigration Services Union (ISU), which represents border immigration and customs staff in the UK, also said there is "little to no" evidence on how well people are adhering to quarantine rules.

Public health experts branded the system as “very leaky” and not “bio-secure”.

Ms Moreton told the All Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus that around 20,000 people are coming into the country each day, the majority of whom are hauliers.

To enter England people must provide proof of a negative test taken in the three days before departure - which can be shown to border agents as a printed document or through an email or text message.

Asked how border agents are able to verify proof of a negative test, Ms Moreton told MPs: "We're not, is the simple answer, it's predominantly taken on trust.

"We do get 100 or more a day of fake Covid certificates, that we catch."

She added they usually identify them due to spelling errors.

But many certificates are in a foreign language which could make spelling mistakes trickier to spot, she added.

"Otherwise they are taken at face value," she said.

Ms Moreton said that the type of test taken can be checked against a series of code numbers but "these things are very easy to knock up electronically unfortunately".

To enter England people must provide proof of a negative test taken in the three days before departure - which can be shown to border agents as a printed document or through an email or text message.   -  REUTERS/Henry Nicholls//File Photo
To enter England people must provide proof of a negative test taken in the three days before departure - which can be shown to border agents as a printed document or through an email or text message. - REUTERS/Henry Nicholls//File Photo

Asked how many could be falling through the cracks, she added: "It's inherently unknowable.

"A lot of the border and immigration and migration and quarantine controls are based on trust: we trust people when they say they have not been in a red list country in the last 10 days; we trust people when they say that they are going to 2 Acacia Avenue to quarantine; we trust that there is an Acacia Avenue and that when they are going to go there, they are going to stay there.

"The whole thing is based on an assumption that people will do the right thing."

She added she’s “not sure” behavioural studies suggest people are doing the right thing.

Professor Deenan Pillay, University College London and a member of Independent SAGE, said the system for checking incoming passengers is “very leaky”.

Citing one recent flight from Delhi to Hong Kong, which had 47 Covid cases, Prof Deenan said those passengers would have also provided a negative test pre-departure but for “fraudulent reasons, or just because the tests are not so good”, infections are being brought into the country.

Ms Moreton added that current plans to reopen travel e-gates will make a “massive difference” to queues, but it will “impair Covid security”.

“The machine can’t check the pre-departure test certificates, it will rely on you having ticked a box on a form that says ‘yes, I promise faithfully I’ve done it’,” she said.

It cannot check if what the passenger has written on their form is “true, or logical, or verifiable,” she said.

Dr Gabriel Scally, visiting professor of public health at the University of Bristol and a member Independent Sage, said: “All the way through I can’t see anything that is particularly bio-secure at all about (the system).”

“It sounds like what we’re trying to do is run a system that’s designed for normal times, in extraordinary times.”

Layla Moran MP, Chair of the APPG on Coronavirus, said: “The stark evidence we heard today exposed how current border checks are totally inadequate to stop Covid cases entering the UK, including dangerous variants.

“The government must act now to stop our airports becoming breeding grounds for the virus. That means reducing overcrowding in arrival halls, effectively separating passengers arriving from red list countries and carrying out thorough checks to root out fake documentation and ensure people comply with the rules."

She added the Government should be "actively discouraging foreign travel".

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Border Force is checking that every passenger has complied with current health measures when arriving at the border.

“Providing falsified documents is against the law. Border Force officers are trained to detect falsified and counterfeit documents and have the right to refuse entry and issue £500 fine to any visitor they believe has travelled to the UK using fraudulent covid test certificates.

“Individuals who fail to comply with their legal duty to quarantine at home following international travel can be fined £1,000, increasing up to £10,000 for repeat offences."