Thousands of Britons today flew into the UK and were pictured arriving at the country’s airports as they sought to get home before borders slam shut on Monday after all travel corridors were axed.
Boris Johnson said on Friday that from 4am on Monday all travel corridors will be suspended and anyone coming to the UK must have proof of a negative test in the previous 72 hours.
At a Downing Street briefing, the PM warned it was ‘not the time to relax’ as he escalated controls at the country’s borders again.
Amid fears over new mutant strains of the disease, he also declared that all arrivals to the UK will have to have tested negative for coronavirus from Monday as he begged Britons to ‘stay at home this weekend’.
Responding to the ban, travellers were seen wearing masks as they arrived at both Heathrow and Manchester Airport. One woman was seen dressed head to toe in protective gear.
Thousands of Britons today flew into the UK and were pictured arriving at the country’s airports as they sought to get home before borders slam shut on Monday after all travel corridors were axed
The new regime means people arriving will still have to isolate for 10 days even if they have had a negative coronavirus test within 72 hours – or five if they have another negative result during that period.
The ban will be backed by tougher spot checks and will stay in place until at least February 15 as ministers and scientists work out how to manage the threat posed by mutations of the virus.
It was revealed today that 11 Britons have had one of the variants that have sprung up in Brazil – although it is not yet clear how much of a threat it poses.
Travellers from South America, Portugal, some of central America and South Africa are already barred from coming to the country.
Earlier, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps defended the timing of the South America border ban amid complaints ministers have been ‘behind the curve’ responding to the threat of new Covid variants.
Travellers were seen wearing masks as they arrived at both Heathrow and Manchester Airport. Pictured: People at Manchester Airport stand with their luggage
This woman was seen dressed head to toe in protective clothing and a mask as she wheeled a trolley full of luggage through Manchester Airport
The ban also covers the Central American state of Panama and Portugal – due to its strong travel links with Brazil – and the former Portuguese colony of Cape Verde.
It applies to everyone who has been in the area over the past 10 days – although UK and Irish nationals are exempt – and came into force at 4am.
Scientists analysing the Brazilian variant believe the mutations it shares with the new South African strain are associated with a rapid increase in cases in locations where there have already been large outbreaks of the disease.
British and Irish nationals and others with residence rights are exempted from the measures that were backed by the Scottish and Welsh governments, though they must self-isolate for 10 days along with their households on their return.
Mr Shapps described the ban as a ‘precautionary’ measure to ensure the vaccination programme rolling out across the UK was not disrupted by new variants of the virus.
Asked if the Brazilian strain was currently in the country, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Not as far as we are aware, I think, at this stage.
‘There haven’t been any flights that I can see from the last week from Brazil, for example.’
The new regime means people arriving will still have to isolate for 10 days even if they have had a negative coronavirus test within 72 hours – or five if they have another negative result during that period. Pictured: Travellers at Manchester Airport
The new regime will be backed by tougher spot checks and will stay in place until at least February 15 as ministers and scientists work out how to manage the threat posed by mutations of the virus
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps defended the timing of the South America border ban amid complaints ministers have been ‘behind the curve’ responding to the threat of new Covid variants
Dr Mike Tildesley, an epidemiologist who advises the Government on its scientific pandemic influenza group on modelling group, said the UK was late in imposing the travel ban but that it should minimise the risk from the ‘more transmissible’ variant.
‘We always have this issue with travel bans of course, that we’re always a little bit behind the curve,’ he told BBC Breakfast.
Aviation minister Robert Courts told the same programme the decision to suspend all travel corridors was part of efforts to prevent the spread of exactly this.
He said allowing people to travel without having to self-isolate was ‘fine back when we were assessing the public health risk from the [original] virus.’
However, he added: ‘We’ve reached the position now where the Joint Biosecurity Centre can’t give live scientific updates to predict which countries or regions may originate new variants.’
It comes as aviation bosses warn the industry ‘urgently’ needs help to survive after the PM’s travel ban.
Abta, a trade association of travel agents and tour operators, said the government should provide support ‘as a matter of urgency’ for the jobs and businesses at risk.
The British Airline Pilots’ Association warned the industry would ‘not be there to support the post Covid-19 recovery’ without ‘a clear plan of action and a proper package of support’.
There were also fears from some travel bosses that rarely-used airports might have to be mothballed or given aid to save costs.
Britons obey order to ‘stay at home’ as anxiety rises to post-April high
Britons obeyed the PM’s order to ‘stay at home’ as the latest lockdown began, but anxiety hit the highest level since the virus was running riot last Spring.
The latest social indicators showed 62 per cent claimed they had either remained indoors or only gone out for ‘essential’ reasons last week.
That was significantly above than the 41 per cent over Christmas, and the largest proportion since last May.
Meanwhile, anxiety was at a peak not seen since last April, with 42 per cent of adults reporting they were suffering.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of trade body Airlines UK, told Today: ‘What we’re saying to the government is clearly this is a national health emergency and ministers need to act to keep the public protected, that’s absolutely right, but what we need is a road map out of this, so when the time is right we can remove these restrictions when it’s safe to do so and start to look ahead to the spring and summer.
‘Easter is the date we’ve got in mind as to when we can have an aviation sector again because if we don’t start to bring in revenue to the sector, we’re going to be in a very difficult place indeed.
‘We’ve now had pretty much 12 months without any revenue coming in which is just not sustainable and airlines are effectively staying in business by taking on billions of pounds of debt which will need to be paid back.
‘The government did give a period of grace before the introduction for pre-departure testing which was supposed to come into effect yesterday but has been pushed back to 4am on Monday to allow a few days to get these flights back home.
‘But in terms of the volume of flights airlines are operating we’re talking about less than 10 per cent based on where we would normally be and in terms of long haul flying for places like South America where there are flights a huge number of those are freight only.
‘Cargo has been the saving grace for the sector over the last 10 months so a number of airlines have increased the number of cargo flights to bring in some much-needed revenue to the sector.’
Mr Courts said the steps had been taken to prevent the variants from arriving and spreading in the UK and that there were now a ‘robust’ set of measures lined up.
‘When you combine the pre-departure testing we have going live on Monday, the passenger locator form, the quarantine for 10 days and the stepping up of enforcement, we have a strong package of measures in place here to protect the public,’ he said.
‘There has been a very robust enforcement process thus far. Border Force have conducted about three million spot checks, that’s about 25 per cent of all the people who’ve come into the UK and PHE have been conducting checks on top of that as well.
At a Downing Street briefing on Friday, Boris Johnson warned it was ‘not the time to relax’ as he escalated controls at the country’s borders again
‘We’re making sure everybody understands why this is so important, it’s a public health measure. It’s an offence not to fill it in, it’s an offence to fill it in incorrectly and I’m confident people by and large understand why we’re doing this.
‘We’re stepping up enforcement both at the border and in the country and making sure people realise there are substantial fines they face if they don’t comply of £500 and upwards.
‘Borders are not closed except for some examples such as South Africa and South America, what this is is a suspension of the travel corridor programme which allowed people to travel without having to self-isolate.
‘That was fine back when we were assessing the public health risk from the original virus, we’ve reached the position now where the Joint Biosecurity Centre can’t give live scientific updates to predict which countries or regions may originate new variants.’
Professor John Edmunds, who works on the Government’s Covid response, said this morning he would be surprised if both strains weren’t already in the UK.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘In terms of the South African one, we had imported cases already by the time we put in additional restrictions for South African travellers.
‘For the Brazilian one… I don’t think there is evidence that we’ve imported cases of the Manaus strain, as far as I’m aware at least, but it is likely that we probably have quite honestly.
‘We are one of the most connected countries in the world so I would find it unusual if we hadn’t imported some cases into the UK.’
The Prime Minister announced yesterday that the UK has now vaccinated 3.3million people – nearly one in 20 of the population – and that includes 1.3million of over-80s, nearly 45 per cent of that group.
‘It’s precisely because we have the hope of that vaccine and the risk of new strains coming from overseas that we must take additional steps now to stop those strains from entering the country,’ he said.
As the UK recorded 55,761 new cases – down a fifth on last Friday – the PM appealed for the public not to weaken, as he called on everyone to ‘think twice’ before leaving the house.
‘This is not the time for the slightest relaxation of our national resolve and our individual efforts. So please stay at home, please protect the NHS and save lives,’ he said.
The grim message came as the Covid death toll went up by another 1,280, although that was also slightly down on the same time last week. Experts believe the daily fatality toll won’t peak until next week because of the three-week lag between getting infected and becoming severely ill.