Epidemiologist questions ‘confusing logic’ of UK travel restrictions

·2 min read
A passenger at Heathrow (PA Wire)
A passenger at Heathrow (PA Wire)

An esteemed epidemiologist has questioned the “logic” of the UK’s international travel restrictions, saying he is “confused” by them.

Tim Spector OBE, principal investigator of the PREDICT studies and the ZOE Covid Symptom Study app, said he didn’t understand why the government is restricting travel to lower risk countries when the UK is on course to have one of the highest coronavirus rates in Europe in the next few days.

He also took issue with the current rules which dictate that even fully vaccinated travellers returning to the UK must still pay for multiple Covid tests.

Sharing a graph from Our World In Data citing John Hopkins University as the source, Spector tweeted: “I’m confused by UK travel policy? Within a few days we will have the highest levels in Europe and yet we restrict travel to lower risk countries.

“We also make our returning citizens spend thousands of £ on tests even if fully vaccinated – unlike other EU countries? Logic?”

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The graph compares daily confirmed Covid cases per million people across major European countries: Spain, Greece, France, Italy, Germany, Portugal and the UK.

It shows that the UK, despite having had the lowest infection rate for much of April and May, is now on an upward trajectory, with only Spain narrowly recording more cases per million as of 12 June.

Spector’s sentiments echo those of epidemiologists last year, many of whom argued that travel bans and border closures only made sense when coronavirus infections from other countries were high and the UK’s was low, with little community spread.

A study by the University of Washington Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences plus Johns Hopkins University, published in January 2021 in the Journal of Emergency Management, claimed that travel bans can delay the arrival of an infectious disease into a country, but “there is very little evidence to suggest that a travel ban eliminates the risk of the disease crossing borders in the long term.”

The latest R number in England is estimated to be between 1.2 and 1.4, meaning that the number of new infections is growing by between 3 per cent and 6 per cent every day.

It comes as Boris Johnson looks set to announce a delay to the final stage of easing lockdown, when nearly all restrictions will lift.

Originally slated to be 21 June, it is now expected that step 4 of the roadmap will be pushed back until 19 July following a surge in new infections caused by the more transmissible Delta virus variant.

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