Watch: 'We have increasing confidence vaccines are effective against all variants', says Boris Johnson
There is “increasing confidence” that vaccines are effective against the Indian strain of coronavirus, Boris Johnson said in a boost for efforts to keep the June 21 date for the further easing of lockdown restrictions.
At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson said the latest data indicates the jabs are working against all variants of the virus.
The spread of the B1617.2 variant had cast doubt on next month’s plans to ease the remaining restrictions in England but Mr Johnson has said there is no conclusive evidence to suggest a deviation from the road map.
In a further sign of optimism, the Prime Minister told MPs on Wednesday: “We’ve looked at the data again this morning and I can tell the House we have increasing confidence that vaccines are effective against all variants, including the Indian variant.”
Mr Johnson thanked people in Bolton and Blackburn – Indian variant hotspots – for “coming forward in record numbers” to receive a jab.
Sir Keir Starmer countered: "In those circumstances, why on Monday did the Prime Minister choose to weaken travel restrictions by moving 170 countries or territories to the amber list?"
The Prime Minister said the UK has "one of the strongest border regimes anywhere in the world", adding 43 countries are on the red list.
He added: "If you travel to an amber list country for any emergency, any extreme reason that you have to, when you come back, you not only have to pay for all the tests but you have to self-isolate for 10 days - we will invigilate, we are invigilating it, and people who fail to obey the quarantine can face fines of up to £10,000."
Sir Keir said "absolute clarity" is needed over whether or not people should travel to amber list countries before highlighting mixed messages given by ministers on Tuesday.
The Labour leader said: "The Government has lost control of the messaging."
Mr Johnson replied: "We are trying to move away from endlessly legislating for everything and to rely on guidance and asking people to do the right thing.
"It is very, very clear - you should not be going to an amber list country except for some extreme circumstance, such as the serious illness of a family member.
"You should not be going to an amber list country on holiday."
Sir Keir asked the Prime Minister how many people are travelling to the UK from amber list countries each day.
"Since the Government loosened travel restrictions, 150 flights a day are going to amber list countries and travel agents are reporting surges in holiday bookings to those countries,” he said.
"Prime Minister, this isn't just a coincidence, it is because of the messaging. So can the Prime Minister tell the House how many people are now travelling to and from Britain from amber list countries every day?"
Mr Johnson replied: "What I can tell the House is that there has been a 95% reduction in travel of any kind too and from this country and that is exactly what you would expect in the circumstances of this pandemic.
"There are 43 countries on the red list and if you come back from one of those countries you have to go immediately into hotel quarantine.
"And the reason that we are able to move forward in the way that we have is because, as I have told the House repeatedly, we are continuing with the fastest vaccination rollout I think just about anywhere in Europe."
The spat came amid a backdrop of deepening confusion over holiday travel, as the European Union prepared to throw open its doors to Britons and a minister admitted that rules against leisure trips were merely “guidance”.
Matt Hancock is expected to update the country on the latest data regarding the Indian variant later on Wednesday when he leads a Downing Street press conference.
Earlier, a leading expert said the Indian strain appears not to spread at the feared most alarming rate which could have sparked a huge third Covid-19 wave in Britain.
Professor Neil Ferguson said the B1.617.2 mutation is believed to have a “significant growth advantage” over other coronavirus variants, but this “magnitude seems to have dropped a little bit”.
Scientists warned that if it was 50 per cent more transmissable than the Kent variant it could trigger a very large third wave of infections in the UK, but if it was 20 or 30 per cent more it would be easier to contain given the high level of vaccinations.
Watch: PM and Starmer clash over travel list during PMQs