Border restrictions here for foreseeable future, SAGE member tells LBC

24 January 2021, 12:20 | Updated: 24 January 2021, 12:23

By Joe Cook

A member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies has told LBC’s Swarbrick on Sunday he believes border restrictions “make complete sense” and will be here for the foreseeable future.

Professor Kamlesh Khunti told Tom Swarbrick he believes the plans for stricter border controls “seems to be positive”, adding “I think that makes complete sense”.

The comments from the SAGE member come as the government reportedly plans to introduce a compulsory 10-day hotel quarantine for all travellers entering the UK.

Ministers are expected to discuss the plans on Monday, which could also apply to British travellers, whose hotel stays, guarded by security, will have to be paid from their own pocket.

The measures are being prompted by concerns over new variants of Covid-19 entering from abroad.

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Professor Khunti told LBC new variants have been found in Japan, Brazil, South Africa and the UK, but these are “only countries that are sequencing the virus”, warning “we probably don’t know about new variants that are appearing in other countries” due to a lack of genome sequencing capabilities.

Once the numbers of Covid cases are down “the chances of a new variant replicating are much, much lower”, however, the risk of new variants is likely to mean restrictions on international travel will be here for the foreseeable future, the SAGE member added.

This could spell disaster for the UK’s travel industry, which has already been hit hard by the pandemic.

However, the government is under pressure from scientists and Labour to introduce stronger border restrictions.

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Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds, told Swarbrick on Sunday: “The government has been too slow throughout, they need to get a plan in place as soon as possible.”

“The initial quarantining system the government introduced, the formal system, wasn’t until June last year. The UK was a total international outlier,” he added.

“In May last year it was only the UK, Iran, Luxembourg and the US Virgin Islands without travel restrictions.”

“They need, in my view, to move to a system of hotel quarantining and they need a comprehensive plan for the border to stop the chaotic scenes - we have seen these awful chaotic scenes at Heathrow Airport over the weekend.”

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On Saturday, Heathrow bosses were forced to defend their social distancing measures after pictures shared on social media showed hundreds of passengers queuing in close proximity at the border.

Heathrow has said that with social distancing in place, a queue for just one aircraft would stretch to over 1km in length.

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Passengers at Heathrow have complained of long waits at border control with little social distancting.
Passengers at Heathrow have complained of long waits at border control with little social distancting. Picture: Pia Josephson

Amidst complaints that queues were building at the border due to a lack of border officials, Emma Moore, Chief Operating Officer at Border Force, said: “We are in a global health pandemic which is why every traveller is subject to enhanced monitoring at UK airports in line with the public health measures at the border.

“Every essential check from pre-departure testing, to the Passenger Locator Form and the suspension of travel routes is to strengthen our borders and prevent the spread of coronavirus into the UK.

“People should not be travelling unless necessary. Every airport across the UK has a responsibility to comply with social distancing and Covid compliant measures on site.”