Scientists warn about 'developing situation' of imported coronavirus

18 September 2020, 21:58 | Updated: 18 September 2020, 22:28

Scientific advisers have warned about outbreaks caused by coronavirus being brought into the UK from abroad
Scientific advisers have warned about outbreaks caused by coronavirus being brought into the UK from abroad. Picture: PA Images
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

Government scientific advisers have warned they are concerned about the "developing situation" of coronavirus being brought into the UK from abroad.

New papers published by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) on Friday said while imported cases of Covid-19 were a "small minority" of infections, they still posed a threat.

The report by the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spimo), said that while testing at borders would not have an impact on infection rates, it would provide important surveillance data.

It warned, however, that imported infections were likely to remain a source of outbreaks in the UK.

The report was completed on 2 September - when the UK's infection rate remained low and had reported around 1,500 cases.

As of Friday, the infection rate is up to 1.4 and over 4,000 new Covid-19 cases were reported in the past 24 hours.

Read more: UK's coronavirus transmission rate rises to between 1.1 and 1.4

The report said: "Although testing at borders is unlikely to have significant impact on importation rates, it would provide important epidemiological surveillance data and potentially reduce onwards transmission if it results in through higher adherence to quarantine periods and activating onwards contact tracing.

"As heterogeneity increases globally, the importation of infection is likely to remain a source of outbreaks in the UK."

Currently, travellers entering the UK have to self-isolate for 14 days unless they have visited a country on a Government list of nations considered low risk for Covid-19.

Yesterday, Thailand and Singapore were added to the list of safe countries, but Slovenia and Guadeloupe were removed after showing an increase in the number of new cases.

There have been calls from the travel industry and some Tory MPs to bring in airport testing and reduce quarantine times to allow more travel for holidays and business.

Health Minister Lord Bethell of Romford told MPs his department was working closely with the Department for Transport, airlines and airports on the issue.

Read more: Pressure on Boris Johnson to hold emergency meeting as Covid fears deepen

Questioned by the Commons Science and Technology Committee on Thursday, he was asked if the Government was looking at using repeat testing to shorten quarantine periods.

He added: "I would love to see the reopening of borders when we can.

"But the CMO (Chief Medical Officer) is really clear, we've already had very tough outcomes from people coming into the country, bringing the disease with them and we have to rely on people complying with quarantine and the evidence suggests that that's a very difficult thing to rely upon."