The government’s top scientific advisers warned last month that a “complete, pre-emptive closure of borders” was needed to fully prevent new coronavirus strains being imported into the UK – despite Number 10 claiming otherwise.
Minutes from a meeting of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) held on January 21 revealed that the experts said the only other method of stopping any variants arriving was for all travellers to be quarantined in designated facilities.
On Tuesday, the prime minister’s official spokesman said Sage “did not actually advise the government to completely close borders or call for a blanket quarantine on travels”.
But minutes state: “Evidence from the continued spread of the South African and UK variants suggests that reactive, geographically targeted travel bans cannot be relied upon to stop importation of new variants once identified, due to the time lag between the emergence and identification of variants of concern, and the potential for indirect travel via a third country.”
They added that requiring passengers to quarantine on arrival and test negative for coronavirus before they are released has the “most substantial potential effect on reducing the risk of infected arrivals”.
The Department of Health and Social Care said it is working “at pace to secure the facilities we need” for the new hotel quarantine policy.
The Daily Telegraph reported that the scheme will run until at least the end of March, with officials seeking to reserve 28,000 hotel rooms for use over that period.
A commercial specification was issued on Thursday evening to hotels near air and sea ports.
A No 10 spokesman said on Friday that “no formal contracts have been awarded as yet”.