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Johnson defends hotel quarantine amid hunt for Brazil variant case

Caroline Davies
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Reuters</span>
Photograph: Reuters

Boris Johnson has denied hotel quarantine was brought in too slowly, as a nationwide search to track down a person infected with a coronavirus “variant of concern” that originated in Brazil gets under way.

The prime minister said scientific advisers “don’t think that there is a threat to the wider public” from the unidentified case and added a “massive effort” is going into preventing the variant spreading.

Related: UK Covid live news: Boris Johnson insists discovery of Brazilian variant in UK won't reverse lockdown easing

Seeking to calm public nerves, Johnson insisted there was “no reason not to think that our vaccines are effective” against the variant and, when asked if the lifting of restrictions could have to be delayed, said: “I don’t think there’s any reason on this basis to change that now.”

Public Health England is working with the postal service to try to locate the unidentified person with the Brazilian variant, who is understood to have taken a home test or a test kit provided to them by their local authority, between 12-13 February but did not fill in their contact details.

Anyone who took a test on those two days but has not received a result is therefore being urged to contact the coronavirus test support line on 119.

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Johnson said the UK had “one of the toughest border regimes anywhere in the world for stopping people coming in to this country who may have variants of concern”.

He said that despite criticism for a nearly three-week wait from when the plan for hotel quarantine was announced to it being implemented, the government moved “as fast as we could”.

“It’s a very tough regime – you come here, you immediately get transported to a hotel where you are kept for 10 days, 11 days,” the prime minister said.

“You have to test on day two, you have to test on day eight, and it’s designed to stop the spread of new variants while we continue to roll out the vaccination programme.

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“We don’t have any reason at the present time to think that our vaccines are ineffective against these new variants of all types.”

Pupils should still be able to go back to the classroom from 8 March, Johnson added, confirming on a school visit on Monday that: “I am confident we will be ready.”

Two cases of the P1 Brazil variant have been identified in a couple in South Gloucestershire after one of the couple travelled from São Paulo, Brazil, via Zurich to London before hotel quarantine was implemented.

The vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, said they “did take a pre-departure test and filled in their passenger locator form, which is why we are able to deal with them so effectively and work with South Gloucestershire council”.

“There is minimal reason to believe that there may be further spread because they have been isolating correctly. But we will be doing asymptomatic testing in South Gloucestershire,” he told Sky News.

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, also reassured MPs on a private call on Monday that schools in Gloucestershire would not face any extra delays to reopening further, according to one Conservative from the area who listened in.

But the shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, said three people having caught the Brazil variant, including one still being tracked down, was “deeply worrying”.

“This is unforgivable government incompetence – measures are always too little, too late. Comprehensive hotel quarantine is needed now,” he tweeted – along with a copy of a letter sent to the home secretary, Priti Patel, in which he repeated a call for a more comprehensive system of hotel quarantine for travellers arriving in England.

Related: Alarm over delays in border measures as Brazil Covid variant hits UK

Yvette Cooper, chair of parliament’s home affairs select committee, also said the discovery of three cases of the highly transmissible Brazil variant in England “show the problems with some of the delays we’ve had from the government in bringing stronger measures in, because these cases seem to have arrived about a month after the Brazil variant was first identified and we were raising with the government the need to bring in stronger measures and stronger action”.

Zahawi also said March would be a “very big month” for vaccinations. “We have already been, for now over 10 days, reserving second doses,” he told BBC Breakfast. The number of people who had received their second doses was at 800,000, he said, “and in March you will see that number increase even more”.

The NHS had all the protocols in place to deliver the second dose, Zahawi said, with people receiving the same vaccine as their first dose. “We’re probably going to be [at] twice the rate over the next 10 weeks as we have done over the past 10 or 11 weeks.”