It is inevitable that new variants of Covid will continue to enter the country, scientists warned over the weekend, saying there were “obvious flaws” in the government’s system of reopening international travel to and from the country. from England.
On Friday, ministers ruled that some international travel could resume from May 17, with travelers from England being allowed to return from “green list” destinations without the need for quarantine. Portugal and Israel are on the list, along with South Georgia, the Faroe Islands and the Falklands.
However, it is understood that members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) are concerned that the government traffic light system is “window dressing” and not based on evidence of the risk of spread. of variants.
These concerns are shared by other scientists such as Professor Martin Hibberd of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), who told the Observer that further testing was needed before international travel was allowed to reopen. With the current approach, it was inevitable that new variants would enter the country, he said.
“While in the UK we look forward to fewer illnesses and fewer restrictions, this is not the case in most countries around the world. Indeed, for many countries infections are likely to appear in waves for at least another year and possibly longer. As a result, imports are likely to become an increasingly important part of new transmissions circulating in the UK. We need to develop an effective strategy to deal with competing desires to allow international travel, while minimizing the circulation of the virus in the UK.
“From an infectious disease perspective, for travel I would like to see more testing, preferably with professionally collected swabs, and more support for quarantine, at home when possible – and whose compliance can be verified – as well as an effective tracing program. “
This point was supported by another LSHTM expert, Martin McKee, professor of European public health. “If everyone from England going to Portugal mingled only with Portuguese, that would be one thing. But if you go to a Portuguese resort town, you are likely to mingle with people from other places.
“The yardstick you should look at is not the infection rate and vaccination rate in the host country, but among the people you are likely to mix with. This is an obvious flaw. And if you’re going to go through any airport, you’re going to mix with people who are going to come from other places. “
As a result, some health experts have called for overseas vacations to be subject to strict controls. Gurch Randhawa, professor of diversity in public health at the University of Bedfordshire, said people should currently only take vacations in the UK.
“Allowing a vacation abroad without universal quarantine measures for all countries is not a risk we should be taking,” he said. “Without strict measures, we will have more deaths from Covid-19 in the coming months from the imported variants, as the vaccines have reduced their effectiveness against some of these different strains.”
The warnings were issued as travel agencies hailed their best day for vacation sales in months. Tui, the UK’s largest holiday company, said it saw a huge increase in bookings, with 60% of all vacations sold on Friday being trips to Portugal.
The firm added that new flights and additional vacations had been added for people who wanted to “get away from it all as quickly as possible.” Likewise, Thomas Cook said vacations in Portugal had been its “number one seller” since the government announced overseas travel.
Contrary to warnings from some British scientists, Clive Dix – who recently resigned as interim head of the UK vaccine task force – said he believed there would be “no virus circulating in the country. United Kingdom ”by August. He told the Telegraph that the British vaccination program “would probably have protected the population from all known variants”, which meant that the country would be “safe for the winter to come”.