LONDON — Boris Johnson announced all people arriving in the U.K. from next week will have to self-isolate before traveling, in a bid to prevent the spread of emerging coronavirus variants that could put at risk the vaccination campaign.
The British prime minister told a press conference Friday that the measure is necessary because there is not enough clarity around how two new variants of the coronavirus identified in Brazil respond to the vaccines being administered in the U.K.
“It’s precisely because we have the hope of that vaccine and the risk of new strains coming from overseas that we must take additional steps now to stop those strains from entering the country,” he said. “This is not the time for the slightest relaxation of our national resolve and our individual effort.”
Up until now, the U.K. was operating a policy of “travel corridors” — a list of countries and territories from where people could travel to England without the need to self-isolate. This will be suspended from 4 a.m. Monday. From that moment, all travelers will have to self-isolate for 10 days upon arrival in the U.K. unless they test negative after five days. They will also have to show proof of having tested negative for coronavirus in the 72 hours before their trip if they arrive by plane.
Johnson said the suspension of the corridors will apply to the whole of the U.K. following conversations with the devolved administrations. The list of travel corridors had been substantially reduced in recent months, but still included countries such as Australia, Finland, Norway, New Zealand and Vietnam.
“At this crucial stage what we can’t have is new variants with unknown qualities coming in from abroad and that’s why we’ve set up the system to stop arrivals from places where there are new variants of concern and set up the extra tough measures that I’ve outlined,” Johnson added.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps explained on Twitter that it has become “impossible” for the Joint Biosecurity Centre “to provide life scientific updates to predict which countries or regions will now originate new variants.”
The government’s Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance said it is possible that some future variants will “get round” vaccines, although this does not seem to be the case with the one identified in Britain, which is now responsible for the vast majority of new cases.
Some of the variants identified elsewhere in the world “may well have more of an effect to bypass some of the existing immune system that has come up in response to a vaccine or previous infection,” Vallance said.
The U.K. airlines industry has backed the government’s decision. “Travel corridors were a lifeline for the industry last summer and the government were right to bring them in when they did,” said Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, which represents the U.K.-registered carriers. “But things change and there’s no doubting this is a serious health emergency and ministers need to act to keep borders safe and the public protected. We therefore support this latest measure, on the assumption that we will work with government — when the time is right — to remove these restrictions when it is safe to do so.”
A total of 4,134 people were admitted into hospitals across the U.K. on Tuesday alone, the highest at any point in the pandemic.