One Year Too Late: UK Govt Considering Border Closure

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 18: Members of the public are seen at Edinburgh airport as travel corridors close until February 15, on January 18, 2021 in Edinburgh, Scotland. The UK has now closed its so-called "travel corridors" with countries from which arriving travelers were exempt from quarantine requirements. People flying …
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

One year after the world media started reporting on cases of a deadly virus in China, the British government has said it is “considering” sealing its borders.

Environment Secretary George Eustace told Sky News on Friday that “everything is always kept under review”, when asked whether the government would shut down the UK’s external borders to foreign travellers in order to stop importing new cases or strains of the Chinese coronavirus.

“We always keep things under review, and it’s been considered,” Mr Eustace said.

This week, Boris Johnson closed all travel corridors — which allowed travellers to enter the UK without needing to quarantine — and replace it with orders that arrivals must provide a negative result for coronavirus no more than 72 hours before their journey. The restrictions will be in place until February 15th.

Ministers are also considering Austalia-style quarantine hotels to ensure that travellers self-isolate on arrival.

However, the prime minister is under increasing pressure from some Cabinet members to halt all foreign entry into the UK and completely shut the borders. Whitehall sources told The Telegraph that “parts of Government are pushing the idea” after figures revealed that despite Britons being subjected to a third draconian lockdown, coronavirus infections rose in the second week of January.

The reports come after the Guido Fawkes political news blog reported that Home Secretary Priti Patel said that the borders should have been shut in the same month that the first lockdown was imposed.

Ms Patel was recorded telling Conservative Party supporters from the Conservative Friends of India during a Zoom chat: “On ‘should we have closed our borders earlier?’, the answer is ‘yes’. I was an advocate of closing them last March.”

The home secretary’s statement is largely in line with reports from March 2020 that Patel had clashed with Johnson over the continued open borders while the country’s citizens were forced to submit to a form of house arrest. She was said to be concerned that flights from virus hotspots like Beijing, Rome, Tehran, and New York were still allowed to land.

Figures from May revealed that of the 18.1 million people who arrived in the UK between January 1st and March 22nd — while there were global widespread reports of the Chinese virus — only 273 arrivals were quarantined. Ms Patel said at the time that decision to not shut down the borders had come from the powerful Scientific Advisory Committee for Emergencies (SAGE).

The UK was one of the exceptions last year not to, early on, impose restrictions of entry to foreigners, before the first quarantine measures were introduced in June. Indeed, for a long time the UK was almost unique worldwide for having few if any border controls in place whatsoever, while other nations shut down.

“What a pity Boris Johnson didn’t listen to Priti Patel,” Brexit leader Nigel Farage said on Wednesday.

The Reform UK party leader had long criticised the government for preferring to lock down Britons rather than borders, saying on March 23rd, when the prime minister announced internal restrictions, that it was “too late”.

“So we are to be locked down — and a new testing regime will begin. Will the planes keep coming from Milan, Tehran, and Beijing? I expect so. It’s all too late,” he said.

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