British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Wednesday that COVID-19 vaccines are proving effective against a highly contagious variant from India as he was pressed on why the government is allowing travel from hotspots.
Johnson has been under particular pressure for delaying restrictions on travel to and from India last month, at a time when he was still planning to head to a trade-focused summit in New Delhi.
The trip was eventually called off as India succumbed to a devastating new wave of infections, and it was then quickly added to the UK’s “red list”, meaning arriving travellers have to quarantine in hotels at their own cost.
But more than 100 flights have still arrived from India since then, and the variant has been spreading in parts of northwest England with large South Asian communities, potentially endangering plans to reopen the economy fully from June 20.
“We have increasing confidence that vaccinations are effective against all variants including the Indian variant,” Johnson said in parliament.
“We have one of the strongest border regimes anywhere in the world,” he added, after a day of confusion from ministers on Tuesday about whether travel is allowed to “amber” countries including most of Europe.
Travel to amber countries should only be undertaken for “any emergency or extreme reason” such as family illness, the prime minister said.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock meanwhile is under pressure to explain his claim that the growing prevalence of the Indian variant in Britain is due to a refusal by some people to get vaccinated.
Data has shown the rise of the variant is instead heavily linked to travel from India, raising more questions about the government’s delay in adding the country to the red list when Pakistan and Bangladesh were already on it.