Boris Johnson has warned that France may have to be added to the UK’s travel “red list” to prevent the importation of Covid variants.
The Prime Minister said on Wednesday (24 March) that tougher border restrictions with the country can’t be ruled out and may be needed “very soon”.
But he told MPs during the Liaison Committee that any travel ban could cause “very serious disruption” to food supplies, while mandatory Covid testing for truck drivers could be introduced.
Any tougher restrictions on France would be brought in due to concerns about the spread of the South Africa and Brazil strains of coronavirus in the country.
“We will have to look at tougher measures, just because of this ambiguity about the effectiveness of the vaccines,” Mr Johnson said.
‘An issue of concern’
When asked by Home Affairs Committee chairwoman Yvette Cooper why the government was “not testing” hauliers when it was clearly not possible to make them quarantine, the Prime Minister responded: “Tougher measures would have very serious disruption on those trade flows and that has to be balanced against the current ambiguity about the effectiveness of the vaccines on the variants.
“I agree with you that this is an issue of concern. Until quite recently the situation was the other way around and we had a situation in France where things seemed more under control and in the UK we had more of the virus prevalent.
“I think we now in seriousness need to look at the situation at the Channel. I’m afraid that we can’t rule out tougher measures and we will put them in if necessary.
“If it’s necessary to bring in testing, then we will do so.”
But he said it was not immediately apparent when new variants emerged how much of a threat they would pose to public health.
If the government moved to cut off travel from any country where a new strain was found, that would mean stopping movements of any kind for a very long time, Mr Johnson added.
Ready to make a ‘tough’ decision
However, the Tory leader said that he was poised to make a “tough” decision to bring in controls which would impact the flow of produce across the Channel, “if we think that it is necessary to protect public health and to stop new variants coming in”.
“It may be that we have to do that very soon,” he warned.
Mr Johnson was also asked about when international travel from the UK could resume after lockdown.
He acknowledged that things were “looking difficult on the continent”.
“On April 5, we’ll get the findings of the global travel taskforce and I’ll be setting out what I think may be possible from May 17,” he told the Liaison Committee.
“Things are looking difficult on the continent and we’ll have to look at the situation as it develops.”