An ‘inexplicable’ failure to quarantine travelers in the UK has fueled the Covid-19 pandemic and led to unnecessary infections and deaths, according to a damning report by MPs today.
March’s fateful decision – taken without “any scientific evidence” to justify it – is accused of making the impact of the coronavirus “much worse” than if restrictions had been imposed.
This meant that several hundred passengers infected with Covid arrived every day – particularly from Spain, Italy and France – as the UK was “almost unique” in rejecting border controls, according to the report.
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It was “a serious mistake which has dramatically increased both the pace and scale of the outbreak in the UK, and meant many more people have caught Covid-19,” the Home Affairs Committee concludes of the Commons.
Strikingly, the Home Office has refused to give scientific advice to explain the “grave error”, despite repeated promises to do so – a position criticized as “totally unacceptable”.
Yvette Cooper, chairman of the committee, said the critical error was the March 13 decision – 10 days before the lockdown – “to remove all self-isolation guidelines for travelers arriving in the UK”.
“We have been told that thousands of other people with Covid-19 have returned to the UK after this directive was lifted,” she warned.
“So in mid-March, at a time when the number of people with Covid returning to the UK was at its peak, they were either returning to work or on public transport or seeing their families without any quarantine.
Noting that other countries were imposing restrictions in March, Ms Cooper added: “That alone should have sounded the alarm bells for ministers and made them think again.”
The report opens a new front in criticizing Boris Johnson for being too slow to recognize the danger posed by the pandemic, leading to the highest death toll in Europe.
In fact, nearly 1.7 million passengers arrived in the UK in the first week of March – and even in the week ending March 22, nearly 600,000 did.
The committee’s investigation learned that in the crucial 10 days between the removal of isolation guidelines and the lockdown, up to 10,000 infected people have arrived.
Almost a third came from Spain, and an additional 43% from Italy and France combined, the Covid-19 Genomics UK virus sequencing consortium discovered. Only 0.08 percent came from China.
Professor Neil Ferguson, the senior epidemiologist, told the committee: “It is likely that 90% of cases imported into this country were not taken into account by these border measures because we were not checking people.
The all-party committee said it was “understandable” that the flights were not simply stopped, “not least because of the large number of UK residents”.
But, on the rejection of restrictions on the movement of passengers, he adds: “The committee could not find scientific evidence to justify this inexplicable decision.”
The report supports the introduction of travel corridors to safer countries and the sudden reinstatement of tourist quarantine in Spain, while criticizing the way in which this decision was made.
It calls for the publication of the Joint Biosafety Center’s “traffic lights” assessment on the risks of traveling to different countries, in order to better inform the public.
MPs also scorned the Home Office’s argument that 99.9% of arrivals comply with two-week quarantine requirements, finally introduced in June.
They describe the claim, made by Home Secretary Priti Patel as “unreliable” because it appeared to be based only on a limited number of compliance checks carried out and three fines imposed.
Accurate figures should be released every fortnight, to boost public confidence, the report said, arguing: “This will help oversee the whole process.”
The government should also investigate testing at ports and airports, already in place in countries like Iceland, Hong Kong and South Korea, the committee recommends.