Coronavirus: MPs Slam Boris Govt for Open Borders that Invited 10,000 Infected People

A man wearing a protective mask walks at the Terminal 1 of El Prat airport in Barcelona on March 16, 2020. - After the COVID-19 pandemic began in China late last year, Europe in recent weeks emerged as the biggest flashpoint and the death toll on the continent surged over …
PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images

A Parliamentary committee has said it was a “mistake” not to introduce border or isolation restrictions on travellers from Europe from mid-March, with up to 10,000 cases being imported that directly contributed to the scale of the pandemic in the United Kingdom.

The House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee said in its report released on Wednesday that while the United Kingdom’s incremental introduction of international travel measures and self-isolation orders for travellers from China and Italy was initially — between January and early March — broadly in line with the actions of other countries, they were inexplicably dropped on March 13th.

No further restrictions were put in place on travellers from Europe in the early months of the outbreak because the government failed to recognise “the increased risk of importations from European countries owing to the greater amount of travel between these countries and the UK, and the speed at which case numbers were increasing”.

The committee also said that failure to impose “strict border measures” — which the government dismissed as “draconian” on February 3rd — might have actually contributed to the massive scale of domestic constraints which the government eventually put in place in late March.

“We are concerned that the UK’s approach to border measures in the period from 13 March to 8 June was very different from countries in similar circumstances. This should have raised serious questions within the government about whether it was taking the correct decisions,” the report said.

Professor Gabriel Scally from the Royal Society of Medicine had remarked in mid-April how the United Kingdom represented an “outlier” in a world where every other country was imposing border restrictions. He said it was “very hard to understand why it persists in having this open borders policy. It is most peculiar.”

The government had repeatedly claimed that there was no point in locking down borders because there was already a “large transmission” in the country, and brushed off suggestions to temperature check arrivals, alleging that the number of visitors was so small it was not worth it.

However, confirming suspicions that failure to lock down external borders resulted in an increased number of coronavirus cases, Wednesday’s report said: “It is now apparent that many more COVID-19 cases were imported to the UK from Europe in mid-March than was estimated at the time.”

An estimated 10,000 cases were “imported” from Europe during that period, and these “uncontrolled importations” contributed to the “overall scale of the outbreak in the UK”.

In damning remarks, the committee said: “The decision to lift all COVID-19-related guidance for international arrivals on 13 March, just as other countries were expanding their border measures, is inexplicable.”

It said: “Evidence suggests that thousands of new infections in the UK resulted from cases arriving from Europe in the ten days between this decision and the introduction of lockdown on 23 March. The failure to have any special border measures during this period was a serious mistake that significantly increased both the pace and the scale of the epidemic in the UK, and meant that many more people caught COVID-19.”

Twelve weeks too late, all new arrivals were ordered to self-quarantine for two weeks from June 8th. These measures lasted a little over a month, before travellers from a list of 50-plus ‘low-risk’ countries were free from quarantine restrictions. However, they have been reimposed on travellers from Spain due to an increase in new coronavirus cases.

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage criticised the government at the time for imposing an internal lockdown on Britons despite planes still arriving daily from virus hotspots such as Italy, Iran, and China. Even in April, some 100,000 people were entering a week from international destinations without being checked or ordered into quarantine. In the three months to Britain’s internal lockdown, just 273 out of 1.8 million travellers were quarantined.

While the report stopped short of blaming the government’s decision for any of the 33,986 deaths since the Chinese virus landed on British shores, last week it was reported that the United Kingdom had seen some of the highest excess death rates in Europe. England itself had the highest excess death rates, according to the BBC, with Birmingham and London being the third and fourth-worst hit European cities respectively, after Madrid (first) and Barcelona (second).

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