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Government considering closing borders to all foreign travellers to prevent spread of new Covid variants, minister says

Ashley Cowburn
·3-min read
 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Boris Johnson’s government has considered the possibility of closing the borders to travellers to prevent new strains of Covid being spread in the UK, cabinet minister George Eustice has said.

It comes amid reports the prime minister is being urged by his cabinet colleagues to impose the draconian measure while the government presses ahead with the roll-out the Covid-19 vaccine.

Pressed on speculation and whether he would like to see a temporary closure of British borders to foreign visitors, the environment secretary told Sky News: “We always keep these things under review. It’s been considered.

“There is concern at the moment about the number of mutant strains that there are, so different strains of this coronavirus are cropping up in other countries.

“Concerns that there’s a risk one day there will be a strain that might be able to evade the vaccine. That’s why last week the prime minister toughened up the current restrictions — we require a test before people travel, and they’ve got to quarantine while they are here. There are now no exemptions from this policy.”

Current policy dictates that anyone arriving in the UK must provide evidence of negative test and must also isolate for a 10-day period. Reports have also suggested the government is considering following New Zealand and Australia’s approach by using hotels for quarantine purposes.

Pressed again on whether he would like to see the measure, he said: “Personally I wouldn’t like to see all borders closed — I’d like us to get past this pandemic, get the vaccine rolled out and be able to start opening things rather than closing things.

“But we can’t rule anything out but for now the restrictions we have in place with that requirement for quarantine and the requirement for a pre-travel test, we think that is sufficient and the right, appropriate measure for now.”

Speaking on Thursday at the Downing Street Covid-19 briefing, the home secretary Priti Patel said it was “far too early” to speculate on restrictions, when asked whether people should be booking foreign holidays for the summer months.

Asked whether Britain could keep its borders closed to people outside the UK until the autumn, she said: “Our focus of course, with regards to borders and travel, people should not be travelling (now) unless of course it is absolutely critical and essential.”

“We have stringent measures (at the border) for a very good reason because we want to protect the health of members of the public and also we want to make sure that we can deliver and safeguard this world-leading vaccine rollout programme.”

Earlier this week Ms Patel revealed during a meeting with Conservative Party supporters that she advocated closing Britain’s borders at the onset of the pandemic, but suggested she had been overruled by others in government.

"On 'should have have closed our borders earlier', the answer is yes," she said, according to a recording of the event. "I was an advocate of closing them last March."

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