independent– The hotel quarantine scheme should end in “weeks”, a health protection expert says – arguing there is “no benefit” to keeping it through the summer.
Professor Paul Hunter called for the restrictions to be lifted when “most vulnerable people” have been vaccinated, which meant no later than April.
Ministers have hinted the crackdown – forcing Britons returning from Covid-19 hotspots to pay £1,750 for a 10-day hotel stay – could remain in place until the autumn, wrecking foreign summer holiday plans.
But the professor dismissed their fears that easing quarantine rules risked the arrival of a new variant that would spark another surge in hospitalisations and deaths.
“Once we’ve got most of our vulnerable people immunised with the first round, I can’t personally see any real benefits from continuing,” said the professor, from the University of East Anglia’s school of medicine.
That could mean when all over-50s have been jabbed, or perhaps over-60s, Prof Hunter said, but he added: “We’re talking about weeks, rather than months.”
Alarm is growing among Conservative MPs after Matt Hancock, the health secretary, hinted the quarantine scheme could continue until a tweaked vaccine – to protect against new variants – is ready.
If the current vaccines cannot be shown to protect against the new variants, “we will need to vaccinate with a further booster jab in the autumn”, he said, when asked how long the curbs will stay.
But, speaking to BBC Radio 4, Prof Hunter said: “The variants that we know about are already here and probably already spreading.”
The Bristol variant, revealed on Tuesday, had “the same two key mutations that the South African variant has”, he pointed out.
“So, at the moment, the things that we are trying to keep out are already here, and so border restrictions may have some value in terms of delaying things, slowing things down a bit, until we get more vaccines,” the professor said.
“But to be honest, in the long-term, I can’t see them having any substantial ongoing benefit after April, say.”
Warning “complete eradication is an unachievable goal”, he added: “This virus is going to be with us for decades from now on. The issue is protecting the people who are most vulnerable initially.”