PM says 'we moved as fast as we could' on quarantine - after Brazilian variant found in UK

1 March 2021, 14:21 | Updated: 1 March 2021, 15:52

By Joe Cook

Boris Johnson has insisted the UK has "one of the toughest border regimes anywhere in the world" after the government faced criticism for not stopping the importation of a Brazilian “variant of concern”.

On Tuesday, public health officials revealed that six cases of the P.1 variant had been detected, with all thought to be linked to travel from the South American country in early February.

A search is underway to track down one of these individuals, who has not yet been identified as their test registration card was not completed.

Mandatory hotel quarantine measures have been in place for travellers from Brazil since 15 February, however these people entered the country in the period after the policy had been announced but before it was implemented.

Read more: Search under way for missing patient in England with Brazilian Covid strain

The cases found in South Gloucestershire are believed to be linked to travel back from Brazil.
The cases found in South Gloucestershire are believed to be linked to travel back from Brazil. Picture: PA
Arrivals from Brazil and other 'red-list' countries have had to go into hotel quarantine since 15 February.
Arrivals from Brazil and other 'red-list' countries have had to go into hotel quarantine since 15 February. Picture: PA

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said the importation of the new variant as “further proof that the delay in introducing a hotel quarantine was reckless”.

“The continuing refusal to put in place a comprehensive system leaves us exposed to mutations coming from overseas,” he continued.

Similarly, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told a virtual meeting with Welsh businesses that the discovery “demonstrates the slowness of the government to close off even the major routes” from high risk countries into the UK.

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The hotel quarantine measures were first announced by the Home Secretary Priti Patel on 27 January, coming into force 19 days later.

However, on Monday, the prime minister claimed the government had “moved as fast as we could” to launch the policy.

"It's a very tough regime - you come here, you immediately get transported to a hotel where you are kept for 10 days, 11 days.

"You have to test on day two, you have to test on day eight, and it's designed to stop the spread of new variants while we continue to roll out the vaccination programme."

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Boris Johnson defended the border restrictions during a visit to St Mary's CE Primary School in Stoke-on-Trent.
Boris Johnson defended the border restrictions during a visit to St Mary's CE Primary School in Stoke-on-Trent. Picture: PA

The Department for Health and Social Care have also defended the measures.

A government spokesperson told LBC: “As we have done throughout this pandemic we will continue to take all steps necessary to protect the public and help prevent the spread of the virus, with strong measures in place at our borders.

“When confronted with new variants, we have taken swift action to save lives and thanks to the UK’s advanced sequencing capabilities, we are finding more mutations than many other countries.

“Very occasionally we do have a test result where the individual has not provided their details.

“Every effort is underway to locate this person and in the meantime it is important people come forward for testing, continue to follow the restrictions in place and stay at home whenever possible.”

Read more: ‘Strong evidence’ Covid vaccines reduce transmission expected soon, JCVI member tells LBC

On Monday, Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi told LBC that anyone who had a test on the 12th or 13th February and has not had their result back yet should call 119.

Surge testing is also being deployed in parts of South Gloucestershire to rapidly test as many people as possible for the variant.

The discovery of the new strain has reignited disagreements between the Scottish and Westminster governments.

Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman described the UK government&squot;s border policy as "inadequate". File image.
Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman described the UK government's border policy as "inadequate". File image. Picture: PA

While all international passengers arriving at Scottish airports must enter the hotel quarantine system, the UK government only requires this of those coming from countries on the "red list".

Scottish government advisor Professor Devi Sridhar of Edinburgh University, said in a tweet the arrival of the new variant showed the red list approach "doesn't work", as the passengers in question arrived in the UK via Paris.

Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said she agreed with Prof Sridhar's assessment, adding: "That's why the Scottish Government has consistently argued that the red list as the sole means of introducing and providing managed quarantine is inadequate."

She said international travel continues to be the "main area that we seek to persuade the UK government to take steps on".