Tomorrow (26 January) the COVID ‘O’ meeting is expected to be a moment of decision on border policy, as the more infectious South African and Brazilian COVID mutations continue to circulate
Currently, the UK borders are open with two conditions.
Firstly, any flights from Latin America were banned on 15 January, with the exception of UK citizens who were expected to isolate for ten days on entry. Secondly, direct travel from South Africa is currently not allowed – which means Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Eswatini, Zambia, Malawi, Lesotho, Mozambique, Angola, Seychelles and Mauritius.
But individuals who are passport holders or long-time residents can still legally enter the country.
What are the new border policy options?
According to Politico’s Alex Wickham, there are five policy solutions being discussed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Home Secretary Priti Patel and the Cabinet tomorrow.
A full ban on all flights
Israel have banned all flights into the country. Currently, their vaccination programme is the most advanced in the world. Apparently, some advisors want to follow in their footsteps.
2. Put everyone into hotels
Enforcing the isolation of all travellers, by putting them in hotels and having them monitored – similar to some countries like Australia. The issue is whether this will be applied to just high-risk flights or everybody.
3. Bans for COVID mutation countries only
The ongoing strategy of banning flights where countries are found to have terrible new mutations is also a potential.
4. Reverse the negative test release policy
Currently, the policy is that a negative COVID test will allow a person to stop isolation after five days instead of ten. This is potentially about to be reversed.
5. Mobile phone tracking
Some particularly ambitious individuals want to track mobile phones on entry to the UK, meaning that it can be known if those visitors are isolating properly.
The COVID mutations causing fresh border concerns
The UK Government and healthcare professionals are highly concerned about the South African, Kent and Brazilian mutations of COVID-19. Each one has proven itself to be more infectious than the original virus, with the Kent mutation (aka B117) being held as partially responsible for a recent influx of cases in the country.
With nearly 98,000 COVID deaths in the UK, NHS staff are at their breaking point. Currently, hospitals are being forced to reroute patients to different hospitals or to dilute the availability of nurses to individuals. The NHS is experiencing intensive strain with over 40,000 staff off sick due to the virus and unprecedented levels of ICU-use.
The increased transmissibility of the South African and Brazilian mutations are huge concerns for a country that is already on a war-footing in relation to public health – if there was a further increase in cases, hospitals would face avoidable deaths due to lack of resources.
Despite research released today that has not been analysed or peer-reviewed, the new mutations do not appear to be more fatal than before.