Boris Johnson insisted the UK had one of the “toughest border regimes” in the world as he continued to come under fire over not introducing stronger quarantine rules for travellers coming into the country to guard against variants of the coronavirus.
During a Downing St press conference, the Prime Minister did not confirm a date of when enforced hotel quarantine for travellers arriving into the UK would begin but said an announcement would be made this week. Matt Hancock, the UK Government’s Health Secretary, is due to make a further statement on the issue on Thursday.
“We have among the toughest border regimes now anywhere in the world, we’re restricting as much as we can, any risk of importing new infection into this country without totally secluding the UK economy,” declared Mr Johnson.
He pointed out how it was “illegal to go on holiday” and that passengers arriving from a list of countries around the world would be “taken and put in special accommodation”.
What is practical to do is have one of the toughest regimes in the world and to get on with vaccinating the people of this country
On Tuesday, Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish Government believed London’s measures did not go far enough and so announced an intention to introduce a “managed quarantine requirement” for anyone who arrived directly into Scotland, regardless of which country they came from.
The First Minister said the details of how the new system would work would be set out as soon as possible.
The issue of quarantine restrictions was raised by Sir Keir Starmer during Prime Minister’s Questions when he told MPs that two weeks ago the UK Government’s Sage experts said: “’Only a complete pre-emptive closure of borders or the mandatory quarantine of all visitors upon arrival can get close to fully preventing new cases or new variants.’
“Pretty clear. So why did the Prime Minister choose not to do the one thing that Sage said could prevent new variants coming to the UK?” asked the Labour leader, who called for the publication of the experts’ advice.
Mr Johnson replied: “Actually, Sage did not recommend a complete ban and they say travel bans should not be relied upon to stop the importation of new variants. But we do have one of the toughest regimes in the world.” He stressed: “It is not practical completely to close off this country as he seems to be suggesting. What is practical to do is have one of the toughest regimes in the world and to get on with vaccinating the people of this country.”
Sir Keir went on to ask why the PM thought that new variants would “only arrive in the UK from direct flights”.
Mr Johnson replied: “He can’t have it both ways. He simultaneously says that he wants the borders to be kept open for freight reasons or to allow businesses to carry on, that was what he was saying, whilst calling for tougher quarantine measures, which is exactly what this Government imposed as soon as we became aware of the new variant.”
The SNP’s Angela Crawley argued it was clear that countries which had employed effective international quarantine measures were now reaping the rewards of reopening their economies and reducing the unnecessary loss of life.
“Faced with the overwhelming evidence that importing new cases of variants could undermine our efforts again, why is the Prime Minister watching, waiting and hoping for the best, when we know that his dithering on crucial decisions has already had catastrophic consequences?” asked the MP for Lanark and Hamilton East.
Mr Johnson, in his response, referred to concerns about the comparatively slower vaccine rollout in Scotland and said he did not think anyone would “take any lectures on speed of roll-out or delivery of programmes from the Scottish nationalist party”. But he added the offer of UK Government help to accelerate Scotland’s rollout was there, noting: “The vaccination of the people of this country is the single most important thing that we need to do now, together, to beat this pandemic.”