Health Secretary Matt Hancock has confirmed India will be added to the coronavirus “red list”.
It comes in response to mounting concern about the number of cases there and the emergence of a variant, including at least three cases in Lancashire.
The move, announced just hours after Boris Johnson was forced to cancel a trip to the country, comes into force at 4am on Friday (April 23), meaning Britons returning after that point will be forced to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days.
Anyone who is not a UK or Irish resident or a British citizen will be banned from entering the country if they have been in India in the previous 10 days.
Speaking in the House of Commons this afternoon, Mr Hancock said so far 103 cases of the Indian variant had been identified in the UK, including one each in the local authority areas of lancashire, Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen.
Concern about variants of the disease – and whether existing vaccines will prove effective – has led to the Government ramping up plans for a campaign of booster shots later this year.
Here are the key points and statements from Mr Hancock's coronavirus statement:
103 cases of new India Covid-19 variant
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs: “We’ve recently seen a new variant first identified in India.
"We’ve now detected 103 cases of this variant, of which again the vast majority have links to international travel and have been picked up by our testing at the border.”
These include at least three recorded in Lancashire.
Mr Hancock said the samples have been analysed to see if the new variant has any “concerning characteristics” such as greater transmissibility or resistance to treatments and vaccines.
He added: “After studying the data, and on a precautionary basis, we’ve made the difficult but vital decision to add India to the red list.”
India will be added to travel 'red list'
Mr Hancock explained: “This means anyone who is not a UK or Irish resident or a British citizen cannot enter the UK if they’ve been in India in the previous 10 days.
“UK and Irish residents and British citizens who have been in India in the past 10 days before their arrival will need to complete hotel quarantine for 10 days from the time of arrival.
“These rules will come into force at 4am on Friday.
“India is a country I know well and love. Between our two countries we have ties of friendship and family. I understand the impact of this decision but I hope the House will concur that we must act.”
Country on track to meet road map dates
Mr Hancock said the country was on track to meet the road map set out by Boris Johnson.
He told the Commons: “This virus is diminished but not defeated. Cases, hospitalisations and deaths are back to the levels we saw in September.
“Throughout the crisis we’ve protected the NHS and there are now 2,186 people in hospital with Covid across the UK, down 94% from the peak. And the average number of daily deaths is 25, down 98%.”
He continued: “And now, with fewer Covid patients in hospital, the NHS is already turning to focus on the work to tackle the Covid backlog.
“Step by step we are returning this country towards normal life and we are on track to meet the road map set out by the Prime Minister.”
Vaccine uptake "astonishingly high"
Matt Hancock added that the uptake of the vaccine has been “astonishingly high”.
Giving some vaccine take-up statistics, the Health Secretary said: “Last week we hit our target to offer a vaccine to priority groups one to nine and we are on track to offer a vaccine to all adults by the end of July.
“But throughout we must be vigilant, cautious and careful because we want this road to be a one-way street.
“The uptake of the vaccine has been astonishingly high. For all over-50s, uptake is 94%.
“Enthusiasm among those in their late 40s was so high that when we opened up the booking system last week they briefly overloaded the website.”
10m have had second vaccine dose
Mr Hancock said: “On Friday and Saturday we saw record numbers of second doses, over 499,000 on each day, and I’m delighted to tell the House that as of midnight last night we’ve now given second doses to over 10 million people across the UK.
“Three quarters of over-75s have now had both jabs rising to four fifths of over-80s. The vaccine is our way out of this pandemic and I’m delighted that it’s being taken up in such huge numbers.”
Booster shot to "make our vaccines stay ahead of the virus"
Matt Hancock said the Government is “ramping up” plans for a booster shot to ensure the Covid-19 vaccines “stay ahead of the virus”.
He told MPs: “We’ve already procured enough vaccine doses to begin the booster shots later this year. We will be working with our current vaccine suppliers and new suppliers, like the CureVac partnership, to work out which vaccines will be effective as a booster shot and to design new vaccines specifically targeted at the variants of concern – like the variant first found in South Africa.
“Our goal is to ensure the vaccine protects against this dreadful disease, whatever it throws at us, to keep us safe and to protect our much-cherished return to normal way of life.”
Mr Hancock said vigilance is required while work on the booster shot continues.
On the South African variant, Mr Hancock said: “We’ve now detected a total of 557 cases of this variant since it was first identified in December. We’ve seen a cluster of cases in south London – predominantly in the London boroughs of Wandsworth, Lambeth and Southwark, and identified single cases over the last week in Barnet, Birmingham and Sandwell.
“Around two thirds of these cases are related to international travel and have been picked up by the day two and day eight testing for international arrivals, however, we have seen a small amount of community transmission too.”
Surge testing rollout to tackle Indian variant
Matt Hancock has confirmed that surge testing will be rolled out to curb the spread of the Indian variant.
Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth said: “As of today, UK COG (Covid Genomics UK) reports 135 cases of B1617 in the UK, 115 in the last 28 days – the fastest growing variant in the UK in the last three weeks.”
Mr Ashworth said his party “welcome” the move to place India on the red list, adding: “But we also now have cases in the community not linked to international travel.
“Now I understand that (Mr Hancock) is carrying out analysis of those samples. But surely we now need to start surge testing and designate the B1617 as a variant of concern.”
Discussing India being added to the red list, Mr Hancock said: “This isn’t a decision which we take lightly.
“(Mr Ashworth) is right to ask about surge testing to make sure that we limit the spread as much as is possible of the variant first found in India – and we will be doing that, I can confirm.”
Free Covid-19 test at pharmacies
Matt Hancock said they have been piloting a system where people can pick up free Covid-19 tests from a pharmacy for free.
They have now rolled this out to nine in 10 pharmacies, he told MPs.
Care home staff vaccine rates and consultations
On care homes, Mr Hancock said: “The vaccination rate amongst care home staff is currently below 80% in over half of all local authority areas.
“Many care homes have called for vaccinations to be required for those who work in these settings.
"We have therefore launched a consultation into to whether we should require care home providers that care for older adults to deploy only workers who’ve received their Covid 19 vaccination unless they have a medical exemption.”
Over 10 billion items of PPE distributed
Mr Hancock said since February last year they have distributed over 10 billion items of PPE.
He said it has been an 'extraordinary effort that has helped us through the crisis and given us a lasting legacy into the future'.
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