Travel restrictions may be needed for a “very long time” in order to be effective but may not be necessary for all of 2021, a SAGE scientist has warned.
Sir Jeremy Farrar, a member of the government's Scientific Advisor Group for Emergencies (Sage) told the BBC that travel restrictions can “buy you time” in order to bring infections down.
He said: “Travel restrictions can buy you time but they do need to be comprehensive and you need to appreciate that they buy you time but they won’t prevent eventually variants arriving and it has to be very very smart and very comprehensive and would have to go on a very long time.
Watch: Priti Patel sets out new UK border measures
“Look at what New Zealand and Australia are going through at the moment with their travel restrictions.”
Both New Zealand and Australia have heavily restricted their borders since the start of the pandemic and have managed to get the virus mostly under control.
When asked if he thought we may need travel restrictions for all of 2021 he said he did not think it would be necessary.
Sir Jeremy said the way to end travel restrictions which are damaging for the economy and people’s lives was to vaccinate as many people across the world as possible in order to reduce the risk of transmission.
He said: “That’s the moral and ethical thing to do, it also happens to be the financial and economic best way to get out of this pandemic.”
Many people in the UK face a difficult situation after postponing holidays booked for last year for 2021 after the pandemic emerged.
But almost a month into 2021 the ability for a person to leave the country has only got harder as the UK has tightened its borders even further to reduce the chance of variants from other countries reaching Britain.
The travel industry has also been one of the most hard-hit industries in the whole pandemic and form the businesses that have not closed they may not be able to survive another summer holiday season cancelled due to COVID.
The UK is doing one of the best jobs in the world at vaccinating its population, but all of the hard work could be thrown off if a foreign variant that was resistant to the vaccine began spreading in the country.
So far scientists have said they believe the vaccines do work against the Kent variant which originated in the UK but have been more worried about the variants from Brazil and South Africa.
On top of that it is highly likely there are more variants out there that scientists haven’t identified due to the rapid nature at which viruses mutate.
Sir Jeremy was also wary about saying schools should definitely reopen in March, which is the current plan announced by Boris Johnson on Wednesday.
He said the better option was to lift restrictions when certain goals are met, for example when R was well below 1.
Sir Jeremy added that we have to “lift restrictions in a very smart, considered and very cautious way otherwise we are back to square one.”
Tougher border controls were announced earlier this week in a bid to protect the UK against the spread of new coronavirus variants.
Britons returning from one of 30 listed countries will be taken to a government-approved hotel where they must self-isolate for 10 days.
Foreign nationals and non-UK residents from those destinations – which include South America, southern Africa and Portugal – are already banned from entering the UK.
Home secretary Priti Patel said there are “still too many people coming in and out of our country each day”.
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