Independent SAGE calls for dramatic restrictions on foreign travel

Ban most foreign holidays says controversial Independent SAGE group as it repeats its call for Britain to try and eliminate coronavirus – but what would be the economic cost?

  • Panel suggested it was possible to totally eliminate coronavirus before vaccine 
  • Runs against prevailing consensus that community transmission will continue 
  • Severe travel restrictions would also cripple economy, especially travel industry 

Britain should dramatically restrict foreign holidays and travel in an attempt to totally eliminate coronavirus rather than just restricting it, the Independent SAGE committee has argued.

The panel, which shadows the UK’s official scientific advisory group, said a substantial reduction in the number of people entering the country would allow officials to isolate any remaining cases and wipe out the virus.

This claim runs against the prevailing consensus among health experts and the Government’s own scientists, who believe community transmission is inevitable until a vaccine arrives, regardless of whether Britain closes its borders.

The call for dramatic travel restrictions would also cripple businesses, particularly holiday companies who have been hammered by the pandemic. 

The report cites New Zealand which is reliant on tourism for 5.5% of its GDP but has been left facing a devastating economic hit by its move to almost completely shut its borders. 

The Government already requires returning travellers to quarantine for two weeks after returning from most countries.

Keith Neal, Emeritus professor in infectious diseases at Nottingham University, said: ‘We need to learn to live with it, the virus is going to keep spreading and causing spikes or clusters unless we keep restrictions or get a vaccine.’ 

The Independent SAGE report said a reduction in the number of people entering the country would allow officials to isolate any remaining cases and wipe out Covid. Pictured: Passengers returning to the UK at Manchester Airport this week 

The Independent SAGE group, led by former chief scientific adviser for England, Sir David King, published its seventh report earlier this month calling for a ‘Zero Covid UK’.

The scientists suggested that Britain could learn from the success of other countries including New Zealand, Australia, Iceland and South Korea.

‘What Britain and Ireland have in common with these three countries is that they are islands (or in the case of South Korea, a virtual island),’ they wrote.

‘As we know only too well, it is travel that has spread the virus across the world and brought it to our shores.

‘Were Britain and Ireland willing, and able, to take advantage of being islands, it would greatly help in defeating the virus and returning our lives and our economy to something like normality.’

New Zealand has recorded biggest quarterly drop in GDP since 1991 in the first quarter of 2020, contracting by 1.6 percent, after its tourism industry was shut down.  

The report called on travel to be restricted both internationally and within Britain and Ireland, and for any incoming passengers to be ‘effectively isolated.

It noted approvingly that most of the world’s countries put in place ‘a complete or partial border closure’ by the beginning of April.

The report also warned the UK is at a ‘crucial point in its efforts to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic’ and that the Government is going in the wrong direction.

Wish you weren’t here Mr Shapps? Transport Secretary Grant Shapps returns to his home in Hertfordshire today

Accusing officials of pursuing ‘manageable’ levels of infections and deaths, rather than trying to get rid of the coronavirus completely, the scientists said the prospect of thousands more people dying of Covid-19 was ‘unacceptable’.

They called for officials to slow down the reopening of the country and to continue to stick to stricter rules. 

It came as Boris Johnson faced mounting pressure from Tory MPs to introduce coronavirus testing at airports in order to slash the 14 day quarantine period for travellers returning from high risk countries.

Former Cabinet ministers David Davis and Sir Iain Duncan Smith are leading calls for the Government to use border checks to save the ailing travel industry. 

Mr Davis said other countries had already set up airport testing and ‘I don’t understand why we haven’t’.

He also said ‘you are as likely to catch the virus on the London Underground back home as you are on the plane or on holiday’.

Sir Iain echoed a similar sentiment as he argued the Government had ‘lost the ability to balance risk’.

Meanwhile, Henry Smith, the Tory chairman of the all-party Future of Aviation Group, said testing at airports could ensure ‘we don’t lose’ the rest of the summer holiday season.

There are believed to be as many as 40 Tory MPs who are now pushing for testing at airports as part of a bid to make foreign travel more feasible amid the current uncertainty.

Their intervention came as travel bosses last night urged Mr Johnson to drop blanket restrictions on entire countries amid fears more nations could join Spain on the UK’s quarantine list.

A coalition of 47 airlines, airports and tourism leaders also called on the Prime Minister to introduce virus tests for those arriving in the UK – warning the industry could be ‘permanently scarred’ unless self-isolation measures are eased.

In a letter to Mr Johnson, the bosses of British Airways, Easy Jet, Jet2 and Wizz Air demanded the ‘urgent’ adoption of a more ‘nuanced’ policy.

The signatories also included chief executives of Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Liverpool, London City, Newcastle, Belfast, Birmingham and Bristol airports. 

It came as the tour operator Tui announced it would close 166 high street stores in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. 

Covid-19 cases in Britain have risen again with the average number of infections jumping by 14 per cent in a week as scientists today urged ministers not to panic and said the UK needs to ‘learn to live’ with the disease.

Department of Health chiefs announced another 763 people tested positive for the virus, taking the rolling seven-day average to 726. In comparison, the rate was 697 yesterday, 638 last Wednesday and has been on the up for a fortnight amid fears of a resurgence.

And the rate is 33 per cent higher than the four-month low of 546 recorded three weeks ago on July 8, just days after top experts warned of an inevitable spike prompted by the relaxation of strict lockdown rules.

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