Around 10,000 travellers from high-risk countries will avoid hotel quarantine every day, Labour claims

Nearly 100 daily flights from countries with new variants - but which are not on 'red list', party says

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Thursday 11 February 2021 03:08
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Around 10,000 travellers from higher-risk countries will avoid hotel quarantine every day because of “gaping holes” in the system, Labour has claimed.

Keir Starmer stepped up his criticism of the government for rejecting a crackdown on all arrivals, with an analysis of places where the new variants of Covid-19 are circulating – but which are not on the "red list".

Those passengers will not be required to pay £1,750 to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days under the rules starting on Monday, although they must isolate in their homes.

Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, has argued that the number of people currently travelling to the UK from the 33 red list countries “probably comes to less than 1,000 a day”.

But Labour said 98 flights land in England’s largest airports every day from countries where the new South Africa and Brazil Covid-19 variants have been found, but which are not on that list.

They include Austria, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, France, Greece, Ireland, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Sweden and the United States of America.

Estimating the 98 flights amounted to 10,200 people a day, Sir Keir said: “The government's failure to secure our borders risks jeopardising the fight against Covid-19.

“All the effort being put into the vaccine rollout across Britain could be undermined by a vaccine-resistant strain entering the country.

"The government is leaving gaping holes in our defences against Covid variants, with the vast majority of arrivals from Monday set to avoid hotel quarantine.”

Boris Johnson was urged to “come clean on the numbers of people arriving from different countries by publishing daily arrivals data”.

The call comes after Cambridge professor Ravi Gupta, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), backed a blanket quarantining policy.

“We learned from the early days of this pandemic that having red listed countries wasn't helpful because the spread was far more extensive than we realised,” he told Times Radio.

“And so the better option probably would be to remove the red list countries and just have the same regulations for all incoming visitors, rather like other countries have done.”

But Mr Shapps defended the targeted approach, alongside the draconian threat of a 10-year prison sentence for travellers who lie about having been in a high-risk country.

“It is serious if people put others in danger by deliberately misleading and saying that you weren't in Brazil or South Africa, or one of the red list countries,” he told BBC Breakfast.

“What we're talking about now are the mutations, the variants, and that is a different matter, because we don't want to be in a situation where we later on discover that there's a problem with vaccines.”

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