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'Travel Restrictions Must Go On'

January 28, 2021. 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 Farrah, a member of the Government's Scientific Advisor Group for Emergencies (SAGE) told the BBC 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 although they buy you time but they won’t prevent variants arriving eventually and it has to be very very smart and very comprehensive and would have to go on a very long time. Look at what New Zealand and Australia are going through at the moment with their travel restrictions.”

Image - Tyler McDowell

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 both for the economy and for people’s lives, was to vaccinate as many people across the world as possible 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 last year until 2021 after the pandemic emerged. But almost a month into this year the ability for people 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, and air travel in particular, has also been one of the most hard-hit industries throughout the pandemic and of the businesses that have not already closed, some may not be able to survive another summer holiday season cancelled due to Covid-19.

Airports continue to be relatively empty

Kevan James

The UK is doing one of the best jobs in the world at vaccinating its population, but gains could be wasted if a foreign variant that was resistant to the vaccine began spreading within the country.

So far scientists have said they believe the vaccines do work against the so-called 'Kent' strain which is said to have 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 evolve.

Sir Jeremy was also wary about saying schools should definitely reopen in March, which is the current plan announced by Boris Johnson on Wednesday, saying the better option was to lift restrictions when certain goals are met, for example when R was well below 1.

He said 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. UK nationals and residents 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 and Home Secretary Priti Patel said there are “still too many people coming in and out of our country each day”.

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