Government too slow to shut borders in wake of Indian Covid-19 variant, says Yorkshire MP

A senior Yorkshire MP has accused the Government of letting history repeat itself by being too slow to shut Britain’s borders when the new Indian variant of coronavirus first emerged.

Yvette Cooper, who also chairs Parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee, issued a withering rebuke of Ministers during a debate on the Queen’s Speech.

“Looking back over the past 12 months, we had a period at the beginning of the crisis where for months on end there were no public health border measures in place at all and an estimated 10,000 people with Covid came into the country,” said the Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford MP.

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“Now, despite all the huge amount of work that everyone has done supporting the vaccine programme and following restrictions, we have the deeply frustrating situation in which progress has slowed and been put at risk by the failure of the Government’s border measures to prevent the spread of the Indian variant across the country.“Throughout all of this, we have seen a pattern. We have seen confusion over which Department is in charge of public health border measures. Is it the Department of Health and Social Care, the Home Office or the Department for Transport?

Yvette Cooper

“It has been somebody different each time. We have also seen a lack of transparency. In particular, the Joint Biosecurity Centre has still not published any detailed assessments of India, Pakistan, or Bangladesh — the countries where red list decisions have been taken.

“We still do not know what data or evidence was drawn on to make those decisions, so all of us think that they were based on the timing of the Prime Minister’s trip to India. We need a new system that has proper transparency, proper accountability and proper clarity in place in order to make improvements for the future.”

She added: “The Government have an opportunity in the Immigration Bill, which will be scrutinised by the Select Committee and in this place, to address public health border controls, and I urge them to do so. We cannot make the same mistakes again.”

Earlier Matt Hancock, the Health and Social Care Secretary, suggested that the outbreak was being exacerbated by people who had declined to have the Covid vaccine.

In a Commons statement, Mr Hancock said there were now 2,323 confirmed cases of the Indian variant in the UK - of which 483 were in Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen.

He said that cases had doubled in the past week – with 19 people in Bolton in hospital with the variant and eight in Blackburn – and that it was now the dominant strain in the area.

“The majority of people in hospital (in Bolton) with coronavirus were eligible for the jab but have chosen not yet to have the jab and have ended up in hospital, some of them in intensive care,” he said.

“Vaccines save lives. They protect you, they protect your loved ones and they will help us all get out of this pandemic.”