London: A new hotel quarantine system modelled on Australia’s hardline border regime is in disarray just a week before starting in Britain, as concerns grow over the spread of a mutant coronavirus strain.
Under the plan, British citizens arriving home from dozens of countries badly affected by the so-called South African variant will be forced to spend 10 days in government-approved hotels at their own expense.
Whitehall officials announced the plan in January after studying whether Australian-style border measures could stop the new strain from gaining a foothold in Britain and undermining the vaccine rollout.
Britain will Australia in setting up mandatory hotel quarantine for at least some arrivals.Credit:Getty
“The UK has consistently chosen to not manage the inbound and outbound flow and keep everything the same.
“We hear all the time how everything in life is different – we’re not mixing, we don’t meet, businesses are closed – but the one thing left exactly the same was air travel and the borders which is staggering because we know international travel imports COVID and worsens the situation.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday repeated his claim that the UK has “among the toughest border controls of anywhere in the world”.
Entry is now denied to non-citizens from 33 countries worst affected by the South African variant but nearly 150 cases have already been identified in the UK.
Health chief urges public to keep faith in AstraZeneca jab
A small study released on Sunday Australian-time suggests the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine might be less effective in stopping mild and moderate illness caused by the South African strain.
It remains unclear if the vaccine will still protect against serious illness and death but scientists are hopeful it will. Researchers are working on a booster jab to provide protection against the variant if necessary.
Deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam urged the public to keep faith in the AstraZeneca jab.
“To people who are on the edge going, ‘should I have this current vaccine or should I hang on for a South African variant when it arrives?’, my advice to you is very simple: do not delay. Have the vaccine that will prevent you against the current threat and don’t worry, you can be re-vaccinated.”
Van-Tam said there was “plenty” of evidence that the AstraZeneca vaccine provided strong protection against the new, more-transmissible strain detected in the UK last year. That strain is now the dominant variant across the country.
However Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the South African strain was the “single biggest risk” to Britain.
“It’s going to be 50 days from knowing about the variant to border restrictions [and] quarantining in hotels coming in,” he said.
Starmer also questioned why arrivals from about three dozen other countries where the strain has also been detected will be able to skip mandatory hotel quarantine and be trusted to quarantine at home.
“This is leaving a back door open at a vital stage in the battle against the virus.”
Vaccine rollout records new milestone
Some 12.8 million people in the UK have now been given at least one of two coronavirus jabs.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the takeup rate had been “significantly better” than hoped.
A first dose has been delivered to 91 per cent of people aged 80 and over. Of those aged 75 to 79, the takeup rate is 95 per cent.
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