Matt Hancock today fuelled Cabinet tensions over a UK border crackdown urging ‘precautionary’ action against Covid variants that have not been detected yet – amid claims the PM wants a more targeted approach.
The Health Secretary gave a strong hint he favours blanket curbs on arrivals ahead of a showdown in a key committee on Tuesday. He also said 77 cases of the South African variant, all linked to travellers, and nine of a Brazilian variant have been identified in the UK.
The key ‘Covid O’ group of ministers are expected to meet to thrash out a tightening, but ‘hawks’ such as Mr Hancock, Michael Gove and Priti Patel have been wrangling with ‘doves’ such as Rishi Sunak and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
There are calls for all arrivals to be forced into Australia-style ‘quarantine hotels’ at airports for 10 days at their own expense – and a full border shutdown for foreign passengers has not been ruled out.
Sources told the Mail on Sunday that Boris Johnson favours targeting the restrictions on Covid hotspots rather than making all air passengers quarantine.
However, in a sign of the tensions, one Cabinet ‘hawk’ told MailOnline that the policy will be ‘worthless’ unless it covers all arrivals to the UK.
In interviews this morning, Mr Hancock was asked whether he favours a blanket border ban.
‘We’ve got to have a precautionary principle that says let’s not bring these new variants back to the UK,’ he said.
‘Further than that, the new variant I really worry about is the one that is out there that hasn’t been spotted.
‘There’s probably those elsewhere that simply haven’t been picked up because the country doesn’t have that genomic sequencing service.’
Health Secretary Matt Hancock (left) gave a strong hint he favours a blanket ban on arrivals ahead of a showdown in a key committee chaired by Boris Johnson (right) tomorrow
Boris Johnson is set to compel visitors from high-risk Covid countries to quarantine for ten days, The Mail on Sunday understands. Pictured: Crowds at London’s Heathrow Airport
Mr Hancock told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday he wanted to see the UK’s genomic sequencing capability ‘made available across the world’ so that emerging variants could be caught.
‘In the meantime we’ve got to have a precautionary principle… so we’ve introduced pre-departure testing and we’ve also introduced checks on everybody to check that that has happened,’ he said.
‘It is absolutely vital that we protect this country from a variant that is not as well dealt with by the vaccine. We cannot risk the progress we have made.’
Mr Johnson is expected to chair a Covid-O committee to finalise the measures tomorrow. Passengers will have to pay for the mandatory hotel stays.
Meanwhile, spot checks for quarantining travellers from all countries will be ‘ramped up’ this week with visits to make sure they are home.
The checks would be carried out by the police or Public Health England officials, a Government source said last night.
Home Secretary Priti Patel is among Cabinet Ministers who favour ramping up the checks.
At the moment they only made after three missed or ‘suspicious’ phone calls.
People found not to be quarantining where they said they would will be fined. Ministers are understood to have rejected proposals for GPS tracking of all arrivals on civil liberty grounds.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said there was ‘no such thing as closing the border entirely’, adding: ‘You always have to ensure you have a system where nationals can return.’
Cabinet ‘doves’ such as Rishi Sunak (right) and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (left) have been voicing caution about tightening borders too far
EU leaders are reportedly drawing up plans to ban flights from the UK to all member states.
German chancellor Angela Merkel has called on the bloc to act in unison to prevent a new wave of the virus.
Portugal and the Netherlands have already suspended flights to and from Britain amid concerns over the new Covid variant.
Meanwhile, photos of crowds at Heathrow Airport sparked concerns over poor social distancing and ‘super spreading’ the virus.
Former British ambassador Sir Peter Westmacott posted a photo on social media captioned: ‘T2 Heathrow Friday afternoon. No ventilation. Long delays. Super-spreading.’
Yesterday, a Home Office source said: ‘Airports are massive. We are encouraging them to snake people around the airports in more socially distanced ways.’