Travel bans WON’T keep new coronavirus variants out of the UK and will only ‘buy time’, SAGE scientist warns
- Sir Jeremy Farrar warned travel restrictions would only ‘buy time’ for ministers
- But he added he thought variants would emerge that could get around vaccines
- The Government has said it will force arrivals from 30 countries to self-isolate
Travel bans won’t keep mutant strains of coronavirus out of the UK and will only ‘buy time’, a leading scientist and Sage adviser has warned.
Sir Jeremy Farrar cautioned although the rapid rollout of the vaccine is ‘hugely positive’, the country is in ‘something of a race’ against a virus that keeps mutating.
‘In the future I think we will see variants that escape from the vaccines,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
‘The thing to do at the moment is to vaccinate as many people as we can in the world to drive down the amount of transmission and prevent these new variants coming.
‘That’s in our national interests, it’s in an equitable and ethical interest, and it’s in the world’s interests to do so.’
It comes after the Government was accused of ‘not going far enough’ yesterday when it announced plans for arrivals from 30 countries – including Portugal and South Africa – to quarantine for two weeks in hotels at their own expense.
The Home Secretary Priti Patel also warned Britons they will not be able to travel unless it is ‘essential’ because of lockdown measures.
The emergence of new variants has sparked mounting global concern that they could get around immunity triggered by vaccines – which are based on the early Covid-19 viruses identified in Wuhan, China.
Sir Jeremy Farrar, pictured, warned that travel quarantine measures only ‘buy time’ against new variants of the virus
Mr Farrar said while travel restrictions ‘buy you time’, they will not prevent new variants arriving eventually, adding that he did not think the current rules on travel should stay in place for the rest of the year.
He said: ‘The way to avoid that, which would be very damaging for all of us, economics and finance as well, the way to avoid that is to get vaccines to the world, reduce the amount of transmission around the world, reduce the chance of new variants, and protect the world.’
Asked if so-called vaccine nationalism is now a reality, including in Europe, he said: ‘Yes, I’m afraid it is and it’s something that we absolutely have to negotiate, we have to avoid, and it doesn’t serve anybody to have these fights over vaccine supply.’
He said the only answer is to ‘drive down transmission, to keep it low and to make these vaccines available globally, otherwise we will see new variants coming up, new strains of this virus which will come back to all of our countries’.
Priti Patel today revealed Britons returning from more than 20 ‘red list’ Covid countries will be forced to quarantine in hotels for 10 days
Asked about the March 8 date for the earliest reopening of schools in England, the director of the Wellcome Trust said he is ‘not in favour of setting deadlines today for when you may open them’, adding that it all depends on where transmission is at the time.
He said it will take ‘a very long time’ for cases to come down and pressures on the NHS to ease and that lockdown restrictions must be lifted ‘in a very smart, considered and very cautious way, otherwise we’re back to square one’.
It comes after Ms Patel read the riot act to would-be travellers yesterday warning that people on fake work jaunts and influencers heading for sunny destinations will be turned away from airports.
The Home Secretary heralded a huge squeeze on ‘non-essential’ journeys as she revealed that even during lockdown individuals have been flouting the rules – including by turning up to go abroad carrying skis.
In a statement to MPs, she said such people now face being sent home again, and will have to fill out a legal declaration saying that they are going for essential purposes.
‘Going on holiday is not a valid reason to travel,’ she swiped.
Lockdown rules already ban people from international travel unless it is for work. Leaving home is only permitted for a small number of reasons.
However, it is not clear whether airlines and other travel operators will have the unilateral ability to decide whether someone has given a genuine reason for a trip, or whether it will end up being referred to police.
Angry airline industry sources meanwhile said such legal declarations could pose ‘challenges’ for them, amid fears check-in staff will be told to take judgements on what constitutes a legitimate journey.
The Home Office has yet to produce an example of the declaration form, and it is not known when the system will kick off. It is not thought any further law will be needed to implement the move.
Ms Patel also declared that Britons returning from around 30 ‘red list’ Covid countries will be forced to quarantine in hotels for 10 days at their own expense.
MailOnline understands that hundreds of arrivals each day are expected to be escorted directly from airports to rooms, where they will have to stay for the duration of their isolation and pay a bill estimated at £1,500 – although ministers hope the numbers will ‘fall through the floor’ as people avoid coming to the UK.
It will only affect British travellers, as foreign citizens who have been in the countries are already banned from entering altogether.
Ms Patel herself is believed to have been pushing for a much tougher regime alongside Matt Hancock and Michael Gove, but was overruled after resistance from Rishi Sunak, Dominic Raab and Grant Shapps, and warnings it would ‘kill’ the aviation industry.
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