United Kingdom Prime Minister, Boris Johnson on Monday warned that it is still not clear how ‘dangerous’ Omincron is as ministers dismissed accusations of ‘travel apartheid’ over the UK’s ban on arrivals from African countries.
The PM defended the government’s response to the emergence of the variant, saying the restrictions on states where it had been detected was “decisive.”
And he rejected the idea that the move to impose pre-departure tests on those coming to Britain was ‘shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted’.
The comments came after Nigeria’s high commissioner to London backed the UN Secretary General’s view that measures imposed by nations against large parts of Africa amounted to ‘travel apartheid’.
But in a round of interviews, policing minister Kit Malthouse said that was ‘very unfortunate language’ and the government is only trying to ‘buy time’ to assess the variant.
After US health chiefs have said they are re-evaluating the ban amid initial signs the strain might be less severe than Delta, Malthouse insisted ministers will be “informed by what comes out around the world.”
On a trip to Merseyside this on Monday, Johnson was asked whether the government had acted too late in demanding travellers to the UK take pre-departure tests.
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“No, I think what we’re doing is responding to the pandemic,” he said.
“We were the first country in the world to take decisive measures to tackle Omicron. We put about 10 countries automatically, immediately, on to the red list and we said that anybody coming from any country in the world would have to quarantine for a couple of days.
“We’re now going further and toughening those measures up as we see the spread of Omicron around the world.
“I don’t think we need to change the overall guidance and advice we’re giving about Omicron in this country. We’re still waiting to see exactly how dangerous it is, what sort of effect it has in terms of deaths and hospitalisations.”
Earlier, Nigerian high commissioner Sarafa Tunji Isola told BBC Radio 4’s on Today’s programme: “The reaction in Nigeria is that of travel apartheid. Because Nigeria is actually aligned with the position of the UN secretary-general that the travel ban is apartheid, in the sense that we’re not dealing with an endemic situation, we are dealing with a pandemic situation and what is expected is a global approach, not selective.”
He added: “(Omicron) is classified as a mild variant – no hospitalisation, no death. So the issue is quite different from the Delta variant. I mean, the position has to be taken based on scientific and empirical evidence. It is not a kind of panicky situation.”
But Malthouse said: ‘It’s very unfortunate language to use.
“We understand the difficulties that’s created by these travel restrictions, but we’re trying to buy a little bit of time so that our scientists at Porton Down can work on the virus and assess how difficult it’s going to be for us to cope with as a country.”