03/03/2020 12:09 GMT | Updated 03/03/2020 16:11 GMT

Travel Restrictions Pointless If Coronavirus Gets Worse Says Government Expert

Sir Patrick Vallance says the present travel restrictions stand, however.

Update: See the latest stories on the coronavirus outbreak.

The government’s chief scientific adviser has stated that restricting travel will be pointless if the coronavirus crisis spreads beyond a certain point.

Sir Patrick Vallance said: “Once the epidemic is everywhere, then actually restricting travel makes no difference at all.

“At the moment we are certainly not recommending any change to behaviours in relation to that.

“And if it grows in the UK, then of course it doesn’t really make more sense to say that you’re at more risk somewhere else than you are here.”

It comes after airlines including British Airways cancelled more than 400 flights due to a drop in passenger numbers caused by Covid-19.

The International Air Transport Association (Iata) warned last month that airlines could lose $29.3bn (£22.7bn) this year due to the outbreak.

The trade association, which represents airlines, has called for regulators to relax rules on take-off and departure slots amid the drop in demand.

Allocation of slots at UK airports is governed by the European Union, which has a so-called “use it or lose it” rule, which means airlines must use 80% of their slots or risk losing them.

ISABEL INFANTES via Getty Images
Chief medical adviser to the UK government Chris Whitty (left) and the chief scientific adviser to the UK government Patrick Vallance (right) arrive in Downing Street on March 3, 2020.

Iata claimed it would be “inappropriate” to apply the rule in summer 2020, to allow airlines to adjust their schedules in response to the “extraordinary demand developments” caused by Covid-19.

In response, trade body Airports Council International Europe said the virus is “significantly impacting Europe’s airports”.

It added: “We support a partial relaxation of EU rules governing the use of airport slots use, but do not consider at the moment that a blanket relaxation for all air routes is justified.”

Meanwhile, England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty stressed that the “great majority” will survive coronavirus, even among the elderly.

“Even for the highest risk group, the great majority of people will survive this.

“If you look at the Chinese data, if you take the very oldest people, the great majority survive.

“If you’re talking about the low-risk groups, the rate of mortality is well below 1%.”

He added: “If you happen to be in a place with a very weak health service at the peak of their epidemic, weaker than the NHS, that obviously might be more problematic – and this is particularly an issue for people who are older or have pre-existing health conditions.”