Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Thousands could fly to England from India before it joins Covid travel ‘red list’

Thousands of people could fly from India to England before it is added to the travel “red list” from Friday, amid growing criticism that the government acted too slowly to restrict the spread of a variant which may be more resistant to vaccines.

In a move announced hours after Boris Johnson bowed to pressure to cancel a key trip to India to boost economic ties, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said most travel from the country would be banned from 4am on Friday. Only British citizens and residents will be allowed in, and all must quarantine in a hotel for 10 days.

There are 16 direct flights from India to the UK scheduled to land before the deadline and many more indirect ones.

Some 103 cases of the new variant first identified in India have been found “geographically dispersed” across the UK, according to Public Health England (PHE). Hancock said the “vast majority” had links to international travel.

As India faces a deadly surge of the virus, recording more than 250,000 cases a day, UK scientists are working to see if the variant has any “concerning characteristics” such as being more transmissible or resistant to vaccines, Hancock said.

Asked whether current jabs are effective against the variant, known as B1617, Hancock said: “We simply don’t know that … that is the core of my concern.”

Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary, said it was “not good enough to try and shut the door after the horse has bolted, by adding countries onto a red list when it is too late”. Labour has called repeatedly for all travellers arriving in England to be subject to hotel quarantine.

The shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, said B1617 was responsible for India experiencing “one of the world’s steepest surges right now”. He called for it to be classed as a “variant of concern” by PHE, rather than a “variant under investigation”, adding: “We already know this variant carries mutations of concern in other variants, and if we have learnt anything in the last 12 months, it is that this virus ruthlessly exploits ambiguities, that we must act fast when the situation is controllable because in a few weeks time it might not be.”

19/04/21 Aubrey Allegretti/Guardian

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