Covid: Speculation growing UK could shut borders in bid to stop spread of new coronavirus variants

Schipol airport in the Netherlands
Could the UK be about to close its borders amid Covid variant fears? Credit: PA

Speculation is growing that the UK could soon close its borders in a bid to try and stop the spread of new Covid-19 strains.

Senior cabinet minister Michael Gove has confirmed announcements on ports, airports and borders will come in the days ahead, while Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed “urgent” discussions with the leaders of the four nations are ongoing.

Ministers are considering introducing a requirement for international arrivals to have a negative coronavirus test before travelling to Britain to tackle surging cases, however, it is thought hauliers could be exempt from such a move.

It comes as concerns continue to mount over the new Covid variant which has been detected in South Africa which is deemed to be even more transmissible than the variant discovered in the UK.

There are fears the Covid variant may not be as effective against the South Africa variant.

The UK variant has already become more prolific than the original coronavirus.

Speaking on ITV Lunchtime News, Dr Sarah Jarvis said that the UK should have shut its borders earlier in the pandemic when cases were lower in Britain than elsewhere.

She continued: "However, with respect to South Africa, I do think we need to be thinking very seriously because not only is this a new variant which is much easier to catch, people in South Africa could be spreading it to other countries and they could be bringing it in to the UK and my real concern about the version is that it is possible that the vaccine might not be as effective against it."

Speaking on ITV's Good Morning Britain, Mr Gove said announcements will come in the days ahead on "how we will make sure that our ports and airports are safe".

Mr Gove added: "It is already the case that there are significant restrictions on people coming into this country and of course we’re stressing that nobody should be travelling abroad."

The Tory MP said during his series of broadcast interviews that he is in discussions with the devolved UK administrations about the terms of the announcement affecting international visitors.

Meanwhile, Ms Sturgeon said travel "in or out of Scotland" has "effectively" been "banned... unless it is essential".

"That's the legal position," she added.

Under the lockdowns announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Ms Sturgeon on Monday, a stay at home order is in place, meaning only essential travel is allowed.

During her daily briefing, Ms Sturgeon also said that "urgent discussions" with the four nations are ongoing with "possible announcements soon" and this was "important" to stop new Covid variants from seeding in the UK.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Credit: PA

Mr Johnson has faced repeated calls to strengthen border protections to prevent the arrival of new cases, particularly of new and concerning variants.

But he made no mention of the border during his address to the nation on Monday evening, when he ordered schools in England to close in enacting the toughest lockdown since March.

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: "Protecting public health in the UK is of the utmost importance and we are looking at what additional measures could be taken with regards to international travel."

Currently arrivals into England from nations that are not exempted under the travel corridor programme have to isolate for 10 days.

But under the test and release scheme introduced in December, this can be shortened if they have a private test five days after their departure and it comes back negative.

During the first lockdown, the government argued against introducing border restrictions while the prevalence was so high in the UK, with experts arguing it would do little to bring down infection rates.

A quarantine period, however, was introduced in June after the first peak and when cases were more under control.

Conservative former health secretary Jeremy Hunt on Monday called for the closure of the borders, with an “off-the-scale” winter crisis brewing within the NHS.

Ahead of the prime minister’s statement, the chair of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee wrote on Twitter: "Time to act: thread on why we need to close schools, borders, and ban all household mixing RIGHT AWAY."