Labour attacks Govt's 'refusal to secure borders' for Indian Covid variant's arrival

16 April 2021, 18:52 | Updated: 17 April 2021, 08:09

The first cases of a 'doubly-mutated' Covid-19 variant have been discovered in the UK
The first cases of a 'doubly-mutated' Covid-19 variant have been discovered in the UK. Picture: PA

By Harriet Whitehead

Labour's shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said Conservative ministers would have to accept the blame after a coronavirus variant first identified in India was found in the UK.

Public Health England reported that 73 cases of a variant named B.1.617, originally detected in India, have been confirmed in England as well as four cases in Scotland.

Thomas-Symonds said: "The Conservatives are putting the progress of the vaccine rollout at risk with their reckless refusal to secure our borders against Covid.

"Ministers have been warned time and again that failing to introduce a comprehensive hotel quarantine policy would leave us exposed to variants of Covid.

"The blame for these dangerous new variants reaching this country rests squarely with the UK Government, and lives are being put at risk.

"We need a proper hotel quarantine system in place urgently."

READ MORE: 77 cases of ‘double mutant’ Covid-19 variant discovered in UK

This comes after the first cases of a 'doubly-mutated' Covid-19 variant were discovered in the UK.

Public Health England's figures come from the latest update of PHE's surveillance of the distribution of different variants across the UK, based on data up to April 7.

Officials have designated it a variant under investigation and some scientists have said it is a cause for concern as it could be "less controlled by vaccines." The variant carries two different mutations, E484Q and L452R.

At the moment a host of countries are currently on the hotel quarantine list where a mandatory 10-day isolation is required.

With the quarantine hotel programme having officially started in England, a new set of rules for travel have been confirmed including harsh fines and possible prison time for anyone who tries to avoid hotel quarantine.

Other new quarantine rules include two Covid-19 tests after people travel.

A Government spokesperson said: "As this virus evolves, so must our defences against it and tougher border measures are a vital tool in helping prevent new variants from travelling into the UK and spreading.

"The tough new measures strengthened a regime that already included a number of stringent rules: including a ban on travel abroad for holidays, negative Covid tests required before arriving in the UK, and strict travel bans in place for countries where there was a risk from known variants.

"Our strengthened border and enforcement regime has been carefully designed to reduce risks and ensure compliance – anyone who has been in a red list country in the 10 days prior to arrival is legally required to book and pay for quarantine in a Government-approved facility."

Boris Johnson's visit to India is still set to go ahead despite soaring coronavirus cases and fears over a variant first identified there, according to Downing Street.

Officials have currently designated it a "variant under investigation" (VUI) rather than a "variant of concern" (VOC), such as the Manaus (Brazil) or South African variants.

The Prime Minister had already scaled down his trip to India at the end of April due to the country's worsening coronavirus situation, but Downing Street has insisted it will still go ahead.

A No 10 spokesman told a Westminster briefing: "The Prime Minister's visit is still happening later this month.

"We have said that the programme will be slightly shorter than it will have been, and you can expect the main body of his programme to take place on Monday April 26.

"As you would expect, safety is obviously important and is a priority for us on this trip, which is why we will make sure that all elements of the visit are Covid-secure."

Officials said there is currently no evidence to suggest that disease from the newly identified variant is more serious than previous ones, nor is there current evidence to suggest vaccines are less likely to work against it.

READ MORE: Surge testing deployed in more London areas as South Africa variant found

Surge testing is being carried out in several areas of London to try and reduce the spread of the South African strain.

The largest amount of surge testing to date began in Wandsworth and Lambeth after 44 confirmed cases of the South Africa coronavirus variant were detected.

Those in the N3 postcode area in Barnet are being asked to get a test either at home or go to a mobile testing unit. Barnet Council said teams of officials will go door-to-door in areas in area to deliver PCR test kits, and a mobile testing unit will be set up in the car park of Finchley Central Station.