Plans to lift the ban on foreign holidays on Monday should be delayed amid mounting fears over the spread of the Indian Covid variant, a senior Labour MP has said.
Yvette Cooper, who chairs the Commons Home Affairs Committee, said the Government needed to be “much more cautious” about reopening international travel.
Lockdown-weary Brits will be able to go abroad for foreign holidays from tomorrow, with a handful of countries like Portugal included on the quarantine-free green list.
But fears are mounting over the spread of the Indian variant in places like Bolton, as the Government faces criticism over delays to shutting the border to India last month.
Asked if foreign holidays should be allowed without quarantine, Ms Cooper told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “The Government needs to slow down its plans.
“I don’t understand why it’s lifting some of its international travel restrictions tomorrow.
“I think they should be being much more cautious about that.”
She said there still significant gaps in the home quarantine system and called on ministers to publish weekly data on the situations abroad.
“I think this has to be assessed on a month by month basis, but as we are now, I don’t think it’s possible to be lifting restrictions at a time when we have got so many new variants,” she said.
Some 20,000 people are believed to have travelled to the UK from India as Boris Johnson dragged his feet over shutting the border.
Bangladesh and Pakistan were added to the red list on April 2, with the measure coming into force on April 9.
But India was not added to the list until April 23.
The Sunday Times estimated that at least 20,000 passengers who could have been infected with a virulent strain of Covid-19 entered during the delay.
Ms Cooper said: “Look at what they’ve done on the India variant. This was not inevitable.
“They should have put India on the red list at the same time as Pakistan and Bangladesh. Since then we’ve had this three week period in which thousands of people have returned from India and that probably includes hundreds of these new variant Covid cases.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock defended the decision to axe quarantine-free travel to India weeks after neighbouring countries were put on the red list.
But he dodged questions on whether the decision was linked to Mr Johnson’s planned trip to the country.
He told Sky News: “This variant was notified as a variant under investigation after we’d already put India on the red list.
“The decision to put India on the red list was taken because of the high positivity rate of people coming from India and looking at the epi-curve in India.
“When we put Pakistan on the red list at the start of April that’s because the proportion of people testing positive coming in from Pakistan was three times higher the proportion coming from India, and it was only after we put India on the red list that this variant went under investigation, and then earlier this month it became a variant of concern.”
Asked whether it was linked to Mr Johnson’s planned trip to India to boost trade talks, Mr Hancock said: “We take these decisions based on the evidence.”