A minister has blamed hotel quarantine not coming into force for another 10 days in England on needing more “time to prepare”, after Labour branded the delay “beyond comprehension”.
James Cleverly told Sky News that “hindsight is a wonderful thing”, as he faced questions about why the policy was announced on 27 January but will not apply to travellers until 15 February.
A date for the opening of government-provided accommodation for people arriving in the country from 32 “red list” countries was announced overnight.
But after struggling to put a firm date on the change for over a week, Labour said it will “go nowhere near far enough to be effective in preventing further variants”.
At least 11 cases of the South African variant scientists say vaccines are less effective against have been discovered across England with no links to travel.
Mr Cleverly, a Foreign Office minister, said there is already an “existing suite of measures” at the border to try to stop the import of new variants – such as the passenger locator form and mandatory isolation upon arrival for 10 days.
“This is about enhancing that quarantine requirement,” he said, adding there are only “a very limited set of reasons people should be travelling at all”.
He added the government was talking to other countries including Australia and New Zealand but that “doesn’t mean to say we will replicate what they do in every instance”.
Mr Cleverly did not deny that the government will foot the bill for all people’s hotel quarantine stay.
And he dismissed the point raised by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer at PMQs that the policy should apply to all travellers – not just nationals and residents arriving in England – because in the first wave 0.1% of cases came from China while 62% came from France and Spain.
“Comparing what we’re doing now to what happened at the start is not that relevant,” said Mr Cleverly.
“We know a huge deal more now about where in the world the virus is prevalent.”