Failure to impose quarantine for travellers in March 'accelerated' coronavirus, MPs warn

5 August 2020, 08:36

Quarantine was not mandatory for many weeks in the early pandemic
Quarantine was not mandatory for many weeks in the early pandemic. Picture: PA

By Ewan Somerville

Ministers made “critical errors” in implementing quarantine rules for travellers in the early days of the pandemic that fuelled the spread of coronavirus, according to MPs.

The “inexplicable” decision to lift all border restrictions in March “accelerated” the scale and pace of the pandemic in the country and led to “many more people contracting Covid-19”, a Commons Home Affairs Committee report claimed.

The group of MPs backed the decision to include Spain in the current quarantine measures, but it criticised the way travel corridor decisions were being made and called for improvements.

The inquiry considered all of ministers’ decisions on border measures during the crisis so far, including the early quarantine of 273 people largely from Wuhan, and voluntary self-isolation applying to travellers from specific countries (including China, Iran and Italy) in February and early March

It also reviewed the lifting of all border measures on 13 March, the introduction of mandatory quarantine in June, the rollout of travel corridors and the most recent decision to reintroduce quarantine for Spain.

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The failure to impose quarantine was a 'grave error', MPs said
The failure to impose quarantine was a 'grave error', MPs said. Picture: PA

Some 10,000 people with Covid-19 may have entered or returned to the country in March, the MPs said.

“The UK's experience of Covid-19 has been far worse as a result of the Government's decision not to require quarantine during March, which would have reduced the number of imported infections,” they concluded.

They cited a study cited by the Government's chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, which suggested that around 1,300 separate strains of the virus were imported largely from Spain, Italy and France during this period.

Committee chairwoman Yvette Cooper said: “Many times ministers told us they were following the science, but we cannot find any science at all behind their completely inexplicable decision to lift all the self-isolation guidance for travellers on March 13, a full 10 days before lockdown, just at a time when other countries were introducing stronger border measures.

“We were told that thousands more people with Covid-19 came back to the UK after that guidance was lifted. So in the middle of March, at a time when the number of people with Covid coming back into the UK was at its peak, they were going back to work or onto public transport or seeing family without any quarantine in place.”

The committee warned it was “unconvinced” by Home Office claims that an estimated 99.9% of the public subjected to quarantine restrictions were complying with the rules and called for the findings to be routinely published.

It recommended the Government investigate the viability of carrying out testing at the border and publish a traffic light system to show prevalence rates for different countries.

A Government spokeswoman said the committee was “incorrect” in its “assertions”, adding: “All of our decisions throughout the pandemic have been guided by the science, with appropriate measures introduced at the right time to keep us all safe.”