POLITICS
05/08/2020 00:01 BST | Updated 05/08/2020 17:19 BST

UK Made 'Critical Error' By Not Imposing Border Restrictions At Start Of Coronavirus Pandemic, Say MPs

Commons home affairs committee slams "inexplicable" decision to lift self-isolation guidance ten days before nationwide lockdown.

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The government made “critical errors” in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic which led to many more people contracting the illness, MPs have said.

In a report published on Wednesday, the Commons home affairs committee said the government should have required people arriving in the UK to quarantine as early as March.

From March 13 until June 8 there was was no quarantine or self-isolation requirements for asymptomatic travellers and no screening or testing at the border.

The committee said the decision to lift the self-isolation guidance for specific countries on March 13, ten days before the nationwide lockdown was imposed, was “inexplicable”.

The report comes as: 

- Bars, cafes and restaurants have been ordered to close as lockdown restrictions are reimposed in Aberdeen over a coronavirus cluster in the area. Some 54 cases have now been reported in the outbreak.

- The epidemiologist behind the government’s national lockdown warned that reopening secondary schools could see the coronavirus reproduction rate increase “by as much as a half”.

- Figures published by the UK’s statistics agencies show there have now been 56,600 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

According to the MPs on the home affairs committee, having no special border measures for people arriving from Spain and France during February and March, and only having voluntary self-isolation measures for travellers from Italy until March 13, was a “serious error and had a material impact on the number of cases arriving in the UK, and on the pace and scale of the epidemic”.

“Many more people in the UK caught Covid-19 as a result,” they said.

Yvette Cooper, the Labour chair of the committee, said this was “a grave error” and meant the virus “spread faster and reached more people”.

“We are concerned that border measures just weren’t taken seriously enough at the beginning of the crisis, either in the discussions among scientific advisers or in ministerial decision making,” she said.

“It appears ministers took decisions without critical information they should have had, and  it has been extremely difficult to work out who took key decisions and on what basis.”

The report supported the government’s introduction of quarantine measures for arrivals from June 8 as well as the opening of so-called “travel corridors” to some destinations.

MPs also said the government had been right to re-impose restrictions on arrivals from Spain.

But they were “very critical of the handling and communication” of the decision and the “lack of earlier warnings”.

A government spokesperson said: “The Home Affairs Committee are incorrect in their assertions. All of our decisions throughout the pandemic have been guided by the science, with appropriate measures introduced at the right time to keep us all safe.

“And with passengers numbers significantly reduced, the scientific advice was clear that quarantine measures for those entering the country from abroad would be most effective when the UK has a lower level of infection. 

“Therefore, as the virus was brought under control here, border measures were introduced on June 8 to protect public health and help avoid a second peak that would overwhelm the NHS.”