Boris Johnson has been accused of failing to protect the UK's borders against Covid-19 after it emerged that more than 100 direct flights from India have landed at UK airports since the country was placed on a travel red list.
On 23 April, India was placed on the government's red list of countries amid fears over a new strain of the virus first detected there.
Since then, some 110 planes have touched down at UK airports — a rate of more than 4.5 per day, according to an alaysis of flight data by LBC.
In the time between the government's announcement on 19 April and the India travel restrictions coming into force some three weeks later, a further 16 flights landed in the UK.
The more transmissible B.1.617.2 strain is now dominant in parts of northern England and spreading to the rest of the country, with fears that it could dash hopes of ending all lockdown restrictions on 21 June.
Unlike other countries on the list - such as Brazil and South Africa - direct flights from India were not banned, although current government guidelines state that UK citizens "should not travel to red list countries".
Flights from neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh, also on the red list, are still allowed. However, travellers from all red list countries including India are expected to take a Covid test on arrival and book a hotel quarantine package.
Ministers have defended the timing of introducing travel restrictions on India, amid criticism the government should have acted more quickly, given rising cases there and in Pakistan and Bangladesh, which were placed on the red list two weeks previous.
On Sunday Matt Hancock, the health secretary, argued that rates were lower in India at the time. He denied there was a delay in the decision because the prime minister had been scheduled to visit India.
Responding to the disclosure that 110 flights from India have arrived in the UK since 23, a spokesperson for the Department for Transport said: We have adapted and bolstered our world leading test and quarantine systems for incoming passengers since the start of the pandemic.
"And will continue to closely monitor direct flights from a small number of Red List countries to see if a blanket ban would be necessary and proportionate."
The spokesperson added: “Public safety always comes first, however we need to also consider other factors, such as critical freight and helping British nationals return home safely.”
But Labour said Mr Johnson's government is presiding over an "utter mess" in its handling of the UK’s borders.
Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary, told LBC: “The mess over the banned flights and the red list is yet more evidence of the utter mess that the Conservatives have made of protecting our borders against Covid, while the scenes of people from Red List countries having to mix at airports is deeply worrying.
He added: “UK government mistakes have risked letting variants in, putting our hope for freedoms at risk.”
On Tuesday, Mr Johnson said he will end speculation about potential changes to England’s roadmap “in a few days” amid fears the spread of the India Covid variant could delay the easing of restrictions.
All restrictions are currently due to be lifted in England on 21 June but there are concerns the more transmissible B.1.617.2 strain will throw those plans into doubt.
Addressing reporters at a vaccination centre in London on Tuesday, the prime minister said he had seen "no conclusive evidence" to signal that the planned easing on 21 June could not go ahead.
He warned that "we've got to be cautious" but stressed that the "wall of defences" built up by the vaccination programme put England in a much better position than in previous lockdowns.
"I don't see anything conclusive at the moment to say that we need to deviate from the road map", Mr Johnson said. "We'll know a lot more in a few days' time.”
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