The UK cannot “close” its border like Australia has because the UK is an island and Australia is a continent, Grant Shapps has said.
Boris Johnson has been under pressure to explain why the government has not introduced stricter measures at the border to prevent new variants of coronavirus being imported from abroad.
But the policy is not yet in force and no date has been given for when it will be enacted.
Labour has attacked the decision to only target a limited number of countries as “half-baked” as it leaves “gaping holes” at the border.
And according to The Times, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) warned the prime minister that “geographically targeted” travel bans “cannot be relied upon to stop importation of new variants”.
Quizzed on Wednesday over why the government was not introducing tougher border controls, Shapps told the Commons transport committee: “The idea that the UK could completely batten down its hatches and remain battened down for a year is mistaken.
“But also the evidence that that is the only thing that you need to do, or even the primary thing you need to do, is also pretty shaky.”
He said: “People say: ‘Why don’t we just close down and then we’ll be safe?’.
“But, of course, we wouldn’t be safe, because we are an island nation, unlike Australia or something which is an entire continent.
“That means that we need to get medicines in, we need to get food in, we need to get our raw materials in, sometimes we have to move people around, scientists and others.
“If we weren’t doing these things then we simply wouldn’t be combating this crisis.
“In fact, specifically we wouldn’t have had things like the medicines that we’ve needed or indeed the vaccinations, some of which are manufactured in Europe, only 20 miles away at its closest point.”
Although Australia is sometimes called an “island continent,” most geographers consider islands and continents to be separate things and therefore Australia is widely referred to as a continent.
Whatever it is, it confirmed its first case on January 25 and its borders were closed to non-residents on March 20.
From March 27 people returning home to Australia had to quarantine for two weeks in government run hotels.
New Zealand, also an island nation, confirmed its first case of Covid on February 28 and closed its borders to all non-residents on March 19.
Residents returning home were required to self-isolate. On April 10 the rules were tightened with the isolation having to take place in government run hotels.