Tuesday 2 February 2021 / 4:01 PM Coronavirus / Nick Thomas-Symonds

Shadow Home Secretary demands Government publish full SAGE advice on border quarantining

Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, has written to the Home Secretary calling for the Government to publish the full SAGE minutes relating to Ministerial decisions on quarantine and all of the related scientific data as per the Motion which was passed in the House of Commons on 1 February 2021.

The letter also requests that the Home Secretary come to the House of Commons urgently, to update Members on why “vital warnings have not been heeded” on SAGE advice that planned border would not be sufficient to prevent emerging strains of the Covid virus entering the UK and spreading.

The letter also criticises Ministers for failing to disclose this guidance in Parliament, either during an Urgent Question on 26 January, a Statement to the House of Commons on 27 January or during an Opposition Day on 1 February.

Full text of letter:

Dear Priti,

I write in relation to further worrying revelations that the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) advised UK Government that “geographically targeted travel bans” would not be sufficient to prevent emerging strains of the Covid virus entering the UK and spreading.

These are deeply worrying revelations and I am concerned that you chose not to make this information public, including during the Urgent Question we asked on this issue on 26 January, at least five days after SAGE gave their advice, and the Statement you gave to the House of Commons on 27 January.

During those debates, I clearly set out Labour’s position that Government quarantine proposals do not go far enough, and SAGE would appear at to confirm the importance of this warning.

The worrying evidence of an outbreak of the South African strain of the virus in recent days makes clear that the quarantine measures in place do not work. This is particularly concerning as we have no way of knowing where new strains of the virus might emerge from, until it is too late.

On a matter of such importance it cannot be right that the UK Government is failing to be open with the British public and make all relevant information available. As a result, I am calling on you to publish the full SAGE minutes relating to Ministerial decisions on quarantine and all of the related scientific data as per the Motion that was passed yesterday in the House.

Additionally, the reported SAGE minutes outline that “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 preventing the importation of new cases or new variants.” Can you confirm if you had access to the minutes prior to appearing in the House of Commons on the 26 January, and if not, at what point were you informed of SAGEs advice?

Can you also confirm that even the limited plans for quarantine that have been outlined – relating to just 33 counties on a “red list” – are not due to be implemented until 15 February as speculated?

It is now over a year since the first case of Covid was detected in the UK so it is unacceptable to suggest that the Government has not had time to put the necessary measures in place.

You will also be aware that the House of Commons has now passed a clear Motion showing support of Labour’s position that there must now be a comprehensive hotel quarantine.

As a result of this motion and the revelations regarding the clear risk of insufficient action by the UK Government on border security, I ask that you come to the House of Commons urgently, to update Members and answer questions on why these vital warnings have not been heeded.

Throughout this pandemic the Government has continually failed to learn the lesson that not taking decisive, early action makes the virus even more difficult to contain.

This is particularly true of failure to act on border security, which is an Achilles heel in our defences against Covid. Everything possible must be done to guard against the prospect of a new strain of this virus reaching the UK, which might be resistant to the vaccine, undermining the progress of the rollout and the extraordinary efforts of the British people.

We must now act decisively to introduce a comprehensive hotel quarantine policy, to minimise these risks.

I look forward to seeing the SAGE minutes published and you coming to the House of Commons, to hopefully announce a desperately-needed change in policy.

Nick Thomas-Symonds MP

Shadow Home Secretary