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A senior Labour MP has questioned why the government has “been so slow to act” after the first case of coronavirus involving the Brazilian variant was identified in the UK.
Yvette Cooper, chair of the House of Commons home affairs committee, subjected Boris Johnson to intense questioning about the matter on 13 January, almost seven weeks ago.
Following the emergence of the Brazilian variant in the UK, Cooper re-posted this exchange with the prime minister when he appeared before the liaison committee on that day.
Cases of the Brazil variant now in the UK arrived a month after I first raised this issue with the PM.
People travelled on indirect flights - an issue I also raised with PM that day.
When it’s so important to protect vaccine programme, why has Govt been so slow to act? /1 https://t.co/64TM724MOS
— Yvette Cooper (@YvetteCooperMP) February 28, 2021
On Sunday, Public Health England said it had identified six UK cases of the potentially more transmissible P1 variant, which was first detected in the Brazilian city of Manaus: three in England and three in Scotland.
This has led to accusations that stricter and quicker restrictions should have been imposed on international arrivals.
On 15 January, two days after the exchange between Cooper and Johnson, the government added Brazil to its so-called “red list” banning travel from the country, though British and Irish nationals were exempt.
Watch: Boris Johnson says 'massive effort' ongoing to contain spread of new variants
Upon entry from Brazil, they had to self-isolate for 10 days – though there was nothing stopping arrivals getting on public transport as they made their way home, for instance.
The rules were eventually toughened on 15 February, meaning any British or Irish national who had been in a red list country such as Brazil in the past 10 days had to isolate in a government-controlled quarantine hotel.
With Johnson under pressure following the detection of the variant, he once again repeated his claim that the UK has “one of the toughest border regimes anywhere in the world”.
Asked if the government was too slow to implement quarantine hotel measures, the PM also said: “I don’t think so, we moved as fast as we could to get that going."
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the discovery of the Brazilian variant in the UK shows the government had not “secured our borders in the way we should have done”.
Last week, Johnson announced his intention for England's lockdown to be lifted on 21 June, but Prof Graham Medley of Sage warned that new variants have the potential to set the road map "backwards".
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday: “It is a variant of concern but we are going to be faced with these in the next six months as we move towards relaxing measures. There are going to be challenges on the way.
"And there is always a risk that we might have to go backwards, and that’s what nobody wants to do is to actually open up and then have to close down again."
Watch: How England will leave lockdown