Coronavirus: Quarantine policy for travellers ‘completely useless’, says scientist who co-discovered Ebola

Professor Peter Piot also urges PM to appoint coronavirus tzar to cabinet to lead logistics in coming years

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Sunday 21 June 2020 14:04 BST
Leading scientist says 14 day quarantine for travellers is 'completely useless'

Top scientist Peter Piot has criticised the government’s “completely useless” 14-day quarantine measure for travellers entering the UK and said it should be dropped by ministers as soon as possible.

The director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who co-discovered the Ebola virus, also said he expected any second wave of Covid-19 to be a “series of local outbreaks”, rather than a “tsunami” across the country.

Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Professor Piot said the measure requiring individuals arriving in the UK to self-isolate for a two-week period would have “made sense” before the country had cases of the virus.

From 8 June, passengers arriving in Britain have been asked to provide an address to the authorities, who have the ability to do surprise visits to ensure compliance with the quarantine measures. Those who break the rules face being fined up to £1,000.

Professor Piot said there are “measures that are completely useless like quarantining for returning travellers”, adding: “The damage it causes to the country, to the economy is going to be enormous. So let’s hope that that rule is dropped as soon as possible and let’s concentrate on what works.”

His remarks come as Boris Johnson faces intense pressure from Conservative MPs and the airline industry to ditch the policy and is reported to be in talks with ministers on opening up “travel corridors” – allowing people to travel between two countries without the need to quarantine on return to the UK.

As the government prepares to relax the social distancing guidelines later this week, the scientist added he was “not rigid about this two-metre rule”.

He continued: “It created actually a false sense of security – it’s not suddenly beyond two metres there’s no risk. I’d rather be at one metre of someone who is infected, but if both of us wear a mask than at two metres without a mask.”

“I’m pretty relaxed as long as it is associated with mandatory wearing of face masks, face coverings in not only public transport, but also in other public places. I would say in shops and where there are lots of people.”

Professor Piot also urged the prime minister to appoint a coronavirus tzar to the cabinet “with the authority to lead the efforts to keep the country safe from Covid-19 for the next few years”. He said this individual should be given the ability to work across all departments and organise future logistics for combating the spread of the virus.

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