Coronavirus: UK made big mistake on border policy, MEPs say

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The spread of the coronavirus in the UK could have been slowed with previous quarantine restrictions on arrivals, a group of MPs said.

The Home Affairs Committee said the lack of border measures earlier in the pandemic was a “big mistake”.

He added that ministers had underestimated the threat of importing the virus from Europe to Asia.

But a Home Office spokeswoman said the committee was “incorrect in its claims.”

She added: “All of our decisions throughout the pandemic have been guided by science, with the right measures introduced at the right time to keep us safe. ”

In its report, the committee supported a decision not to close UK borders in the early stages of the crisis, given the “large number” of returning UK nationals.

But he added that the requirement for people arriving from certain countries to quarantine, introduced in early June, should have been introduced earlier.

Since then, those arriving in the UK have to self-isolate for 14 days or face the threat of fines, with each of the UK’s four countries compiling a list of exempt countries where this does not apply .

In February and early March, all passengers from China, Iran, South Korea and later Italy were asked to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival.

MEPs criticized the decision not to include Spain on this first list, adding that government advice initially focused on Asian countries and did not “recognize early enough” the risk of importing the virus from there. ‘Europe.

They added that a subsequent decision – on March 13 – to end self-isolation counseling for international arrivals without symptoms was “inexplicable.”

“Serious error”

Citing evidence from scientific studies, they said it was likely that thousands of those infected would then have arrived in the UK before the full lockdown 10 days later.

“It is highly likely that this contributed to the rapid increase in the spread of the virus in mid-March and the overall scale of the outbreak in the UK,” they added.

“Failure to properly consider the possibility of imposing more stringent requirements on those who arrive – like mandatory self-isolation, increased screening, targeted testing or enforceable quarantine – was a serious mistake.

This is the second parliamentary report in a week that accuses the government of serious mistakes. Last week there was criticism of how hospital patients were being sent to nursing homes without Covid testing.

That and today’s report amount to the same accusation – poor or inexplicable decisions that have not helped slow the course of the pandemic.

MEPs cite examples from around the world where countries required passengers arriving in that country to comply with strict quarantine or surveillance measures.

The government insists that its general March 13 message to the public to stay home, if they were showing symptoms, worked.

But this recommendation was not the same as clear guidance, or an absolute legal obligation, for passengers to self-isolate even if they felt perfectly fine.

And that, MEPs say, means travelers in March were able to arrive and move much more freely at a critical time in the spread of the virus across the UK.

The committee added that the decision to withdraw self-isolation counseling was “very different from that of countries in similar circumstances.”

He concluded that countries which had introduced stricter border measures, such as Singapore, had “proven to be justified in doing so”.

He said an official estimate used to justify the UK’s approach – indicating that only 0.5% of domestic infections were imported from overseas – was not calculated until the end of March.

But MPs stress the proportion of cases would likely have been “significantly higher” when general quarantine advice was lifted earlier this month.

They backed mandatory quarantine rules introduced in June and said ministers should consider further testing arrivals at UK borders.

Labor MP Yvette Cooper, who chairs the committee – and is both a former Home Secretary and former Home Secretary – said failure to introduce quarantine rules in March had meant the virus “spread faster and reached more people”.

“The UK was almost unique in that it did not have border controls or quarantine arrangements at the time,” she added.

“We are concerned that border measures were simply not taken seriously enough at the onset of the crisis, either in discussions between scientific advisers or in ministerial decision-making.”

But a Home Office spokeswoman said the government was following scientific advice.

“And with the number of passengers drastically reduced, the scientific advice was clear that quarantine measures for those entering the country from abroad would be more effective when the UK has a lower level of infection,” she added.

“Therefore, with the virus under control here, border measures were introduced on June 8 to protect public health and help prevent a second spike that would overwhelm the NHS. “

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