Prime Minister Boris Johnson was slammed by Home Affairs Select Committee chair Yvette Cooper after refusing to say if the UK had plans to close its borders with Brazil.
There is fury tonight as flights from Brazil continue to arrive into the UK each day despite a new variant of Covid-19 being discovered in the country.
The Prime Minister admitted he is “concerned” about the new variant as he spoke with MPs on the Liaison Committee, but refused to to say if the UK had plans to close its borders with Brazil.
Questioned by Health Committee chair Jeremy Hunt, Boris Johnson said: “We already have tough measures… to protect this country from new infections coming in from abroad.
“We are taking steps to do that in respect of the Brazilian variant.”
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But he was slammed by Home Affairs Select Committee chair Yvette Cooper, who demanded to know why it was still possible to get direct flights from Brazil.
When a highly infectious new strain of the virus emerged in the UK before Christmas, large parts of the world slammed closed their borders to UK travellers.
The UK also introduced measures to restrict travel to and from South Africa in the wake of another variant being discovered there.
Ms Cooper said today that the slow reaction to the Brazil variant was an example of the Tory government’s lax approach to quarantine procedures throughout the pandemic.
Mr Johnson insisted extra measures were being put in place to prevent the Brazilian coronavirus variant being imported to the UK – but didn’t outline what they were when pushed.
Ms Cooper said: “We were warned about the Brazil variant three days ago, we don’t know yet whether that will potentially undermine the vaccination programme so why aren’t you taking immediate action on a precautionary basis?”
Mr Johnson replied: “Well we are and we’re putting in extra measures to ensure that people coming from Brazil are checked and indeed stopping people coming from Brazil.”
Ms Cooper asked: “Are you, that’s a new announcement?”
“No sorry I said what we were looking at was the question of whether or not the Brazilian variant is immune resistant,” he said.
Mr Johnson added: “There are lots of questions we still have about that variant, we don’t know for instance, any more than we know whether the South African variant is vaccine resistant.”
Meanwhile, tonight MailOnline reports sources have said ministers could make a decision as soon as tomorrow, on measures such as a ban on all flights stopping passengers who have been to Brazil recently.
It is understood the matter was discussed yesterday by the SAGE sub-group NERVTAG.
No cases of Covid-19 caused by the new Brazil variant have been discovered in the UK as of yet.
Three days have passed since, on Sunday, authorities in Japan recorded the variant in four travelers from Brazil’s Amazonas state.
The variant was found in airport tests on a man in his 40s, a woman in her 30s and two teens.
The man who tested positive had no symptoms upon arrival but was hospitalised after his breathing became difficult.
The woman suffered headaches, one teen had a fever, while the other teen had no symptoms, according to the ministry.
Officials in Japan said studies were underway into the efficacy of vaccines against the new variant, which differs from highly-infectious strain that orginated in the UK or the strain that emerged in South Africa.
Research into the effectiveness of the current vaccine on all three strain is ongoing.
“At the moment, there is no proof showing the new variant found in those from Brazil is high in infectiousness,” Takaji Wakita, head of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, told the Reuters news service.
The Government banned direct flights from South Africa after a new and concerning variant emerged there.
Ms Cooper said the quarantine system introduced in June is “so much weaker” than in other countries, with the public allowed to board public transport to get to where they will isolate and there being little checks to see if people are following the rules.
“You give the impression each time that you just delay all of the difficult and uncomfortable decisions until the last possible minute and when so many lives are at stake, Prime Minister, is this the leadership we really need?” she asked.
He said he “disagrees strongly” about her analysis of the border protections and that “huge quantities of checks” are being carried out when people quarantine for 10 days after arriving from nations not exempt under the travel corridors programme.
Japan announced the detection of the new variant on Sunday and reported it to the World Health Organisation after the arrival from Brazil of a number of individuals infected with the strain.
Cambridge University microbiology professor Ravi Gupta said the Brazilian variant has three key mutations that “largely mirror” some of those in the hyper-infectious South African variant “hence the concern”.
“Vaccines are still likely to be effective as a control measure if coverage rates are high and transmission is limited as far as possible,” he added.
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