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UK ‘allowed thousands of infected people into country’ in early days of pandemic

Arrivals in the UK and children in school
The Government has also faced questions over its handling of schools (Picture: PA/Getty)

The Government has been slated for being too slow to close the UK border in the early days of the coronavirus crisis and treating children ‘as an afterthought’ during the pandemic.

Failing to quarantine arrivals earlier in the outbreak ‘accelerated’ the spread of Covid-19, a new report by the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee suggests.

Elsewhere, the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has also piled in to criticise Boris Johnson for being ‘too slow’ to act throughout the crisis, warning the UK faces a ‘long and bleak’ winter if urgent preparations for a second wave are not taken now. 

The committee of MPs said yesterday that ‘critical errors’ – including 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’.

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It backed the decision to include Spain in the current quarantine measures – although it hit out at the way travel corridor decisions were being made and called for improvements.

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The inquiry considered all of the Government’s decisions on border measures during the crisis so far.

Drawing on evidence that ‘thousands of people with Covid-19 arrived in or returned to the UK in February and March’, the committee concluded: ‘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.’

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

Passengers arriving at Birmingham Airport, as people arriving into England from holidays in Spain have been told they must quarantine when they return home.
Passengers arrive at Birmingham Airport wearing face masks (Picture: PA)

It also cited a study referred to by the Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance which indicated more than 1,300 separate strains of the virus were imported largely from Spain, Italy and France during that period.

Committee chairwoman Yvette Cooper said: ‘The Government’s failure to have proper quarantine measures in place in March as the infection was spreading fast was a grave error and meant Covid spread faster and reached more people.

‘The UK was almost unique in having no border checks or quarantine arrangements at that time. That alone should have rung loud alarm bells for ministers.

‘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.’

The Government’s failure to provide the scientific advice behind its decisions – despite repeated requests and promises to do so – was ‘completely unacceptable’, the committee said, as it warned ministers may have been making decisions without seeing ‘critical information’.

The committee also remained ‘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 ‘better evidenced’ and routinely published.

Among a string of recommendations made, the committee said the Government should investigate the viability of carrying out testing at the border and publish a traffic light system to show prevalence rates for different countries for travellers to consider.

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A Government spokeswoman claimed 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.’

Meanwhile, children’s commissioner Anne Longfield has said the re-opening of schools ‘should be prioritised’ as lockdown measures are eased, saying schools must be the first to reopen and the last to close during any local lockdowns ahead of pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visiting the Discovery School in West Malling, Kent, Britain, 20 July 2020.
Boris Johnson visits a school in Kent last month (Picture: EPA)

And Labour’s Sir Keir echoed that position while criticising the PM’s ‘slow response’ to the pandemic in a Guardian column for claiming Mr Johnson’s ‘excuses and blaming others’ is ‘reminiscent of the schoolboy claiming his dog has eaten his homework. ‘

The latest figures show 46,299 people have died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 5pm on Monday, up by 89 from the day before.

He added: ‘His (Mr Johnson’s) repeated refusal to accept that test and trace isn’t functioning properly is a roadblock to fixing the issues and restoring public confidence.

‘The reality is that if the government doesn’t use this summer wisely, focusing on driving down the rate of infection, Britain faces a long and bleak winter.’

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at [email protected].

For more stories like this, check our news page.

MORE: Heathrow calls for tests at airports to cut quarantine time for travellers

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