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Sage Minutes Confirm Scientists Warned Last Month Only A “Complete Border Closure” Could Stop New Variants Entering The UK

The government has not decided to introduce hotel quarantine for all passengers arriving in the UK (PA)

3 min read

Documents reveal the government’s top scientific advisors did warn last month only a “complete, pre-emptive closure of borders” could fully prevent new variants of Covid-19 coming into the UK.

Downing Street denied this was the case but minutes from a Sage meeting on January 21 say: “No intervention, other than a complete, pre-emptive closure of borders, or the mandatory quarantine of all visitors upon arrival in designated facilities, irrespective of testing history, can get close to fully prevent the importation of cases or new variants.”

Instead of implementing that the government announced six days later it would not shut the country’s borders entirely, and would only introduce mandatory hotel quarantine to passengers coming from a list of 33 countries designated as Covid variant hotspots.

The policy is due to come into force on February 15, more than three weeks after the meeting took place.

After a leaked version of the minutes were published by The Times earlier this week Number 10 denied the recommendation of its scientific advisors had been to totally shut the UK’s border.

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 the official record of the meeting, published on the government’s own website this lunchtime, said: “Reactive, geographically targeted travel bans cannot be relied upon to stop importation of new variants, due to the lag between the emergence and identification of variants of concern, as well as the potential for indirect travel via a third country.”

Last night the government published its plan to quarantine some international arrivals for 10 days in approved hotels, and is now trying to book thousands of rooms near airports.

It is understood travellers will be asked to pay around £80 per night and will be given three meals a day via room service, with security guards deployed to make sure they stay in place.

The Telegraph reported they will be required to take a coronavirus test on the second and eighth days of their stay, with a negative result needed in order for them to leave.

The government will pay around £55million up front and try to recoup the money from passengers, the paper said.

It comes after PoliticsHome reported the department for health and social care (DHSC) officials have been in touch with the New Zealand government to ask how they managed their successful Covid-19 isolation hotels, but their conversations started only last week.

A DHSC spokesman said: "We are now working at pace to secure the facilities we need to roll out managed quarantine for British nationals returning home from the most high-risk countries," the spokesman said.

"In the face of new variants, it is important that the Government continues to take the necessary steps to protect people and save lives."

But Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said the government was again doing "too little, too late".

"It is beyond comprehension that these measures won't even start until February 15," he said.

"We are in a race against time to protect our borders against new Covid strains.

"Yet hotel quarantine will come into force more than 50 days after the South African strain was discovered.

"Even when these measures eventually begin, they will not go anywhere near far enough to be effective in preventing further variants."

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