The UK is the most likely place in the world where a mutant strain of Covid-19 will occur, a health minister has warned.
Broadcaster and leading fertility expert Lord Winston said that the risk of dangerous new variants to which the country has no defence was likely to be “inevitable”.
His comments came amid criticism of the foreign travel red list for quarantining international arrivals, amid claims it was not effective or extensive enough.
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Travel quarantine ‘ineffectual’
Responding to a statement on Covid-19 in the House of Lords, Lord Winston said: “Within six hours of entering a cell, this virus will have replicated leading to millions of copies.
“Some copies will be imperfect, the so-called variants, and time is of the essence.
“The risk of dangerous new variants to which we have no defence is actually eventually likely to be inevitable.”
He went on to brand the red list system for travellers as “ludicrous and ineffectual”, stating that the government should work to ensure the tens of thousands of people entering the uK daily are “effectively separated, screened, tracked, traced and isolated where necessary before they are lost within minutes somewhere in a British city”.
In response, Tory frontbencher Lord Bethell said the nation “must be on the balls of its feet” to be ready for such “unhelpful news”.
He said: “If there’s one place in the world where a mutant variation is likely to happen it will be in an area where you have a high infection rate and a large amount of suppression of the virus by either a lockdown or a vaccine programme.
“If you look around the world that country is most likely to be Britain and we must be on the balls of our feet to be prepared for unhelpful news on that front.”
Border controls reducing cases
Despite criticism about the ‘ineffectual’ red list system for travellers, Lord Bethell said that border controls have helped to reduce Covid-19 cases dramatically and argued that the quarantine system has had a positive effect.
He said: “The number of people travelling in and out of the UK has reduced dramatically and the traffic through our airports and our seaports is down tremendously.
“The application of the red list programme is extremely effective and the use of quarantine hotels has been extremely rigorously enforced.
“We are prepared to go further. We review the red list constantly and should the threats mount up to being serious enough then we would extend the red list as far as necessary.”
The health minister went on to give a sombre assessment of the ongoing pandemic and warned “we are not through the woods yet”, despite the success of the vaccine rollout so far.
He added: “We are not post-vaccine. We are at best mid-vaccine – 20 million people is an enormous achievement but there is a hell of a long way to go.”
“There is still an enormous amount of infection in this country. Nearly half a million people have the disease. There are variants of concern being generated in this country and overseas.
“Until we are truly through this we have to show restraint, we have to make uncomfortable decisions and we have to ensure the NHS is preserved and that we save lives. That remains our priority.”