Nick Ferrari challenges Grant Shapps over speed of Brazil travel ban

15 January 2021, 08:38

By Megan White

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has defended delays to the Brazil travel ban and pre-departure coronavirus testing, telling LBC the Government has done a good job in managing the borders during the pandemic.

Asked why it had taken four days from the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) discussing the variant to the travel ban's imposition, Mr Shapps told Nick Ferrari that move was "extremely quickly in terms of genome sequencing" but said it was a "precautionary measure."

Challenged over the delay to pre-departure testing, which was meant to come into force today but has been delayed until Monday, Mr Shapps said it was for "practicality reasons" because of the number of different tests available worldwide.

Read more: Brazil Covid strain: What is the new variant? Have flights been stopped?

The Transport Secretary spoke after announcing a travel ban into the UK from Brazil, Portugal and 14 other countries after the detection of a new variant of Covid-19 emerged in Brazil.

Mr Shapps told Nick Ferrari: "We've seen this new variant there, it's more easily spread, and we are so close with this vaccine - not just close, we've got three million jabs of it in the arms of Brits so far.

"We don't want to stumble at this final hurdle so it's a precautionary measure at this stage.

Asked about whether truck drivers will still be able to enter the UK from Portugal, Mr Shapps said: "Only where there's a necessity to ensure that we get goods into the country.

"By and large, truckers from Portugal will have spent quite a while on the road first of all, and of course we've got the tests in place, including France carrying out testing as well on some of the truckers.

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"But the primary concern here is the Brazilian variant, and the flights from South America.

"The Portuguese thing is a secondary issue, because of course that's not where the actual variant itself is."

Asked why it had taken four days from the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) discussing the variant to the travel ban's imposition, Mr Shapps said: "As a lot of people may be aware, or becoming aware, actually that's extremely quickly in terms of genome sequencing.

"Do you know how many mutations there are of the coronavirus? 12,000.

"So if you stopped every single mutation and didn't do any checks at all, you would constantly be chasing your own tail.

"So what you have to do is the genome sequencing of the variant, of the mutation, and that is a process which actually usually takes weeks or months to do - we saw this with the Kent variation, for example.

"Actually what we've done on this is taken a precautionary approach.

"There haven't been any flights coming from Brazil in the meantime, and of course anyone who did perhaps come via a different route is required to quarantine as well."

He added: "This is a sort of belt and braces approach, I would say, and actually as I said, in terms of reacting to coronavirus mutations, which happen all the time, we've acted ahead of having full mutation sequencing."

Nick also asked Mr Shapps whether the UK's border was secure after comments from Sir Patrick Vallance last May which said cases were due to a high level of travel into the country.

The Transport Secretary said: "Remember that first of all we had a quarantine system in place, so you couldn't actually come here without a quarantine.

"Then we introduced the travel corridors, to allow where it was safe to, people to travel - remember that was always travelling to places with lower levels of infection than being here.

"And I've looked back at the data from the last month - less than one tenth of one per cent of cases relate to imports and of course, there's no saying that people wouldn't have ended up with cases if they'd been here, because they've been to places which by definition have lower levels of coronavirus than the UK during that period of time."

He insisted the Government had done a good job in terms of border restrictions, adding: "We've had quarantine in place from last spring / early summer, and that quarantine has meant you can't just waltz into the country and then go about your business.

"By law, and you could end up with a criminal record if you didn't do this, you would have to quarantine.

"We've also, of course, ensure that we've got this travel corridor system.

"We've got test to release, which means you have to have a test if you want to get released from that quarantine, and of course now we're going to have pre-departure testing as well."

Challenged over the delay to pre-departure testing, which was meant to come into force today but has been delayed until Monday, Mr Shapps said it was for "practicality reasons."

He said: "There are over 200 different countries and territories, they all have different types of coronavirus test, people quite rightly would want to know which type would meet our exacting standards.

"We've had to list that for every country in the world, so we didn't want to end up with a repatriation crisis where we kept Brits abandoned in some far-flung location because we couldn't tell them whether or not they could take the right test.

"They'll have to quarantine if they come from somewhere not on the travel corridor."