Nadhim Zahawi Says Discovery Of Covid-19 Brazil Variant In The UK Shows Border Policy "Actually Worked"
Heathrow Airport arrivals/PA
Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi has defended the government's handling of UK borders after it emerged that the Brazil variant of the coronavirus arrived in the UK before ministers introduced the hotel quarantine policy.
Zahawi told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Monday morning that the discovery of six cases of the variant in the UK — three in England and three in Scotland — was proof that “the system in terms of the robustness of pre-departure test and the passenger locator form actually worked".
Two of the cases of the Brazil variant in England belong to the same household in South Gloucestershire, it was confirmed on Sunday. However, the location of the third person is not yet known as they didn't in fact fill in their passenger locator form when they arrived in the UK.
The person in South Gloucestershire who brought the Brazil variant into the UK travelled into the country from Sao Paolo on February 10th — five days before the government introduced mandatory hotel quarantine for people returning from 33 high-risk countries including Brazil.
Prior to that, travellers to the UK needed to self-isolate for 10 days upon arrival and have proof of a negative test taken no more than 72 hours before their departure.
Labour's Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said the discovery of the Brazil variant in the UK, which scientists believe could be more contagious than the original virus, was "further proof that the delay in introducing a hotel quarantine was reckless".
The BBC's Nick Robinson put to Zahawi that the government "dithered" in its border policy, pointing out that it did not introduce the hotel quarantine policy until 44 days after the Brazil variant was first discovered in Japan.
However, Zahawi said that the case in South Gloucesteshire was evidence of the UK's "pretty stringent" border policy working as it should.
“In this particular case all the rules were followed, including the pre-departure test which was negative and of course the passenger locater form which is why we were able to locate them, and the isolation as well," he said.
"Even countries which had hotel quarantine, like Australia, they still have variants challenging them in the same way that they challenge us".He said Public Health England was “working through as much data as quickly as possible" to locate the third person "but the public appeal is just to belt and brace this".
The minister sought to reassure people that the government would be able to control the Brazil variant as it is "very similar" to the South African variant which ministers and scientists have been dealing with since earlier in the year.
“This variant is very similar to the South African variant and we’ve been dealing with the South African variant for a few weeks now in a robust way by identifying through genome sequencing, surge testing, and isolating," he said.
“One of the strengths of the UK system is our genome sequencing capability.
"We account for just shy of 50% of all the sequencing of different variants of Covid-19 and as we have done in these cases, we would pick up, both in terms of PCR testing capability where we’ve got 800,000 capacity per day, and the millions of lateral flow tests, community transmission of this variant very, very rapidly”.
Officials are urgently asking anyone who took a coronavirus test on 12th or 13th of February and who has not yet received a result or has an uncompleted test registration card to call 119.