Government scientists warned ministers last month that only a complete border closure or mandatory hotel quarantines would prevent new strains of Covid-19 entering the UK.
Earlier this week, Number 10 flatly denied Sage had advised the government to close borders or impose a blanket travel ban.
But a document prepared by SAGE scientists, published today, says partial travel bans only have the potential to “delay spread and peak by a few weeks or moths”.
It continues: “Extensive travel restrictions (over 90% of journeys stopped) would be required to meaningfully affect the magnitude of an epidemic.”
The document was published as ministers were under fire for admitting a new hotel quarantine plan for some Brits returning from ‘red zone’ countries wouldn’t be ready for another ten days.
It adds: “No intervention, other than a complete, pre-emptive closure of borders, or the mandatory quarantine of all visitors upon arrival in designated facilities, irrespective of testing history, can get close to fully prevent the importation of cases or new variants.”
And it said: “Evidence from the continued spread of the South African and UK variants suggests that reactive, geographically targeted travel bans cannot be relied upon to stop importation of new variants once identified, due to the time lag between the emergence and identification of variants of concern, and the potential for indirect travel via a third country (moderate confidence, moderate evidence).
“Travel bans will have the most impact if action is taken quickly, there are low volumes of direct or indirect travel, and if the variants have not already spread widely (weak evidence, moderate confidence).”
Officials are reportedly racing to block book thousands of hotel rooms for passengers’ quarantine.
The Government needs to secure 28,000 rooms so arrivals from 33 “red list” nations can self-isolate for 10 nights when they land in the UK.
Ministers hurriedly revealed last night that the partial measure would be introduced on February 15.
And this morning Minister James Cleverly said the government still needed “time to prepare” for the plan.
Other countries, including Australia and New Zealand, have had hotel quarantines in place for all arrivals since early last year – and implemented them in a matter of hours.
Both countries have since virtually eliminated Covid-19.
Leaked details of the SAGE minutes were published by the Times earlier this week – but were dismissed by Number 10.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Sage did not actually advise the government to completely close borders or call for a blanket quarantine on travels.”