Ministers are trying to force Boris Johnson into completely closing Britain’s borders to foreigners to prevent new Covid variants spreading to the UK, reports claim.
A cabinet row is said to be brewing over the issue, according to The Telegraph.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced on Thursday that arrivals from Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo would be banned from Friday to stop the spread of the South African strain of Covid-19.
But some ministers are said to be pushing for a ban on all non-British travellers amid rising infection rates.
The idea has previously been turned down by the Prime Minister but the issue is back on the agenda for a meeting of the Cabinet’s Covid operations committee within days.
Whitehall insiders told the Telegraph that ‘parts of Government are pushing’ for the travel ban after new data suggested infections rose in the second week of January despite lockdown measures.
Radical measures reportedly being considered by the Cabinet’s Covid-O committee include making UK arrivals wear a GPS tag to ensure they are not leaving their quarantine accommodation, and making all arrivals pay to stay in hotels which they won’t be allowed to leave for 10 days.
Home Secretary Priti Patel, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and the Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove are understood to back tougher restrictions similar to those in Australia and New Zealand.
A Whitehall source told the Daily Mail that Mr Hancock was ‘paranoid’ about the threat from abroad, adding: ‘We are rolling out the vaccine now much faster than many other places. That is the key to unlocking in the UK.’
But the Treasury, the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Department for International Trade (DIT) are said to be worried about the damage further restrictions would do to the already suffering aviation and travel industries, as well as the wider economy.
It comes after EU leaders met on Thursday to consider allowing member states to ban non-resident travellers from countries hit by mutant strains of the virus, as well as requiring negative pre-departure tests and quarantine.
Portugal has already announced a ban on flights from the UK to stop the spread of a mutant strain of coronavirus that first emerged in southern England.
Prime Minister Antonio Costa said that all flights to and from Britain would be suspended from Saturday to reduce the ‘risk of contagion’ as the UK strain spreads across the Mediterranean country.
The UK has already banned flights to and from Portugal due to its ‘strong links’ with Brazil, where a ‘concerning’ new variant emerged. The whole of South America, the African island nation of Cape Verde and Central American country Panama were also included in the measure.
The UK also ended its travel corridor policy on Monday amid pressure to tighten controls at the border to stop the spread of mutant strains.
It means travellers from all countries must offer proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken in the previous 72 hours before departing for the UK.
International arrivals must then quarantine for 10 days, although they have the choice of doing an extra test on day five to shorten the isolation period.
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