Insiders say the decision – which has thrown the plans of thousands of holidaymakers into chaos by requiring them to quarantine for up to ten days even if they are double vaccinated against coronavirus – was taken at a meeting on July 16 attended by Mr Javid, Mr Johnson and senior scientific advisers, but not Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
A source claimed Mr Javid had overreacted to claims that the AstraZeneca vaccine might not work against the South African – or Beta – variant, which is responsible for about ten per cent of Covid-19 cases in France, although many are in its Indian Ocean territories of Reunion and Mayotte.
In fact, on the day the decision was taken, new research was available showing a single AZ dose was 83 per cent effective at stopping hospitalisations caused by the South African strain, only slightly lower than its 88 per cent protection against the Indian (Delta) variant.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid was last night accused of ‘frightening’ Boris Johnson into making his ill-fated decision to move France into the Amber-plus travel category
Insiders say the decision was taken at a meeting on July 16 attended by Mr Javid, Mr Johnson and senior scientific advisers, but not Transport Secretary Grant Shapps
The Mail on Sunday understands that another fear raised by Government advisers was the theoretical risk of someone becoming simultaneously infected with both Beta and Delta strains, leading to a ‘recombined’ mutant with turbo-charged transmissability and vaccine resistance.
To compound days of damaging headlines over its handling of the pandemic, the Government may now be forced to take France off the Amber-plus list within a week.
The source said: ‘Saj frightened the PM to death. Shapps was so p****d off that the decision was taken without him being present. No 10 and the Department of Health must now be feeling pretty f****** stupid after the backlash.’
The meeting on July 16 took place shortly before Mr Javid tested positive for Covid-19, a result that has forced the Prime Minister to quarantine at Chequers, his country estate in Buckinghamshire.
Jonathan Van-Tam, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, is understood to have lobbied hard for France to be classified as Amber-plus, or even Red, which would force returning travellers to pay for ten days in a quarantine hotel.
Some MPs have privately expressed surprise at reports that it was Mr Javid who persuaded the Prime Minister to return France to quarantine controls because the Health Secretary had been expected to be less cautious on Covid restrictions than Matt Hancock, his predecessor.
A source told the Mail on Sunday that Transport Secretary Grant ‘Shapps was so p****d off that the decision was taken without him being present’
The decision has thrown the plans of thousands of holidaymakers into chaos by requiring them to quarantine for up to ten days even if they are double vaccinated against coronavirus
But the source claimed that Mr Javid ‘already appears to have gone native’ and had been ‘captured’ by his officials. The row came as:
- Infections fell for the fourth day in a row, with 31,795 cases, down from 46,558 on July 20;
- The vaccination rollout neared its latest milestone with 70 per cent of adults – 36.9 million people – expected to have been fully vaccinated by today;
- Downing Street prepares to launch a social media blitz to persuade the young to have the jab by highlighting the 33 countries they can visit if double vaccinated;
- Labour warned holiday plans of nearly six million Britons could be ruined if Spain and Greece – where the Beta variant is also in circulation – joins France on the Amber-plus list. Shadow Transport Secretary Jim McMahon accused Mr Johnson of ‘presiding over a summer of chaos’;
- On the busiest travel weekend of the year, people arriving at Heathrow had to wait up to three hours at passport control after the pingdemic left one official on duty;
- Ministers and officials are due to meet tomorrow to discuss expanding the number of test centres for key workers who can avoid isolating if they record daily negative tests. Meanwhile, aviation experts said flights were being cancelled or moved at short notice in part due to the pingdemic problem;
- Allies of Mr Johnson compared his battle with coronavirus to Margaret Thatcher’s fight against inflation in the 1980s.
Mr Javid yesterday announced that he had made a full recovery and that his ‘symptoms were very mild, thanks to amazing vaccines’.
He tweeted: ‘Please – if you haven’t yet – get your jab, as we learn to live with, rather than cower from, this virus.’
Last night the Government sought to defuse the row over the France quarantine decision by insisting it had been made on expert advice.
A spokesman said: ‘The Joint Biosecurity Centre assessed that France is a high-risk Covid-19 destination due to the circulation of variants of concern, most notably the Beta variant, which is the variant that presents the greatest risk for vaccine escape.’
He said that with restrictions easing for double-vaccinated travellers, the Government’s priority was ‘to stop the spread of Covid-19, including protecting our borders from the threat of variants.
‘The decision to add countries to the Red, Amber or Green lists is made jointly by Ministers, informed by the latest scientific data and public health advice and taking into account a range of factors.’
PM’s allies say he’s not for turning: Boris Johnson will stand firm on lifting of restrictions as his friends evoke memories of Margaret Thatcher’s single-minded war on inflation
- Allies of the Prime Minister say that he is ‘not for turning’ on lifting of restrictions
- One ally says that the PM will hold his nerve and stick to plan barring new variant
- PM had originally planned to invoke the memory of Churchill on Freedom Day
Despite gloomy scientific modelling which predicts that cases could hit 200,000 a day during the current wave, they say Mr Johnson is ‘resolute’ about last Monday’s lifting of restrictions – trusting that the vaccine rollout has sufficiently weakened the link between infections, hospitalisations and deaths.
One told The Mail on Sunday that, like Mrs Thatcher, Boris was not for turning.
‘Barring the emergence of some terrible new variant, Boris is going to hold his nerve and stick to the plan,’ the ally said.
‘Everyone told Maggie she was on the wrong path over inflation, but she saved the country.’
Allies of Boris Johnson have compared his battle against coronavirus with Margaret Thatcher’s determination to defeat inflation in the 1980s
Mrs Thatcher embarked on her programme to stamp out inflation in 1980, through deep public spending cuts and strict control of the money supply. By the middle of the year, with inflation hitting 22 per cent and unemployment heading towards 2.8 million, she was facing furious opposition – including from former Tory Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.
After meeting Mrs Thatcher at Chequers in August 1980, Mr Macmillan wrote an 11-page letter to her in which he warned that global conditions, coupled with her tough monetarist stance, left Britain at risk of ‘constant recession’.
The former premier also criticised her for abandoning ‘consensus politics’ to pursue radical reforms and ‘divisive politics’, which he said went against the ‘essence of Tory democracy’, and dismissed the importance of the money supply.
Perhaps the most infamous expression of opposition to Mrs Thatcher’s policies came in 1981 when 365 economists wrote to The Times urging her to change course and limit the damage caused by the recession.
But Mrs Thatcher refused to change course, and within four years inflation had fallen from 27 per cent to 4 per cent, providing the bedrock for the subsequent economic recovery.
There are tentative signs that Mr Johnson’s stance on the virus is already reaping dividends; figures released yesterday showed 31,795 new Covid cases, down from 46,558 on Tuesday.
The Prime Minister had originally planned to invoke the memory of another of his illustrious predecessors when restrictions were eased by launching Freedom Day at a historic venue associated with Winston Churchill. The idea was quietly shelved after the case rates started to climb.
Mrs Thatcher embarked on her programme to stamp out inflation in 1980, through deep public spending cuts and strict control of the money supply
Mr Johnson yesterday appeared on video link from Chequers – where he is isolating after coming into contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid before he tested positive for Covid – to send a good luck message to the British and Irish Lions ahead of their first Test against South Africa yesterday.
He said: ‘It’s fantastic that captain Alun Wyn Jones is back so fast from injury, and I know that the combined might of the English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish rugby union players will be an absolutely formidable opponent to anybody, even including the reigning (world) champions. Drive for the line, Lions! We’re all rooting for you, and good luck.’
Mr Javid and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer were also self-isolating at home yesterday and received deliveries – groceries from the upmarket company Getir in Mr Javid’s case, and Sainsbury’s for Sir Keir.