People arriving in the UK from abroad are not being asked to self-isolate because coronavirus is already so prevalent, Matt Hancock has told MPs.
The Health Secretary told the Health & Social Care Committee that the decision was similar to many other countries but is being kept under review.
Hancock was asked by MP Yvette Cooper why there was no guidance asking people travelling into the country to self-isolate as a precaution.
When the COVID-19 pandemic first started, some people returning from infected areas were quarantined for 14 days to protect against the spread of the illness.
Responding to Cooper’s question, the Health Secretary, said: “It is not, I’m advised by the epidemiologists, it is not an epidemiologically significant route of transmission in the UK because the current incidence is high.
Latest coronavirus news, updates and advice
“Of course, if we succeed in getting the incidence of transmission lower and much lower, which I hope we will, then you have to ask the question of how to protect the UK from people who have been in a place where that incidence of transmission is much higher.”
Hancock said the decision was “similar to many other countries who are following the science” and would be kept under review, adding: “Many things change fast in this epidemic.”
When pushed by Cooper about publishing the science behind the decision, he replied: “Very happy to ask the chief medical officer to publish the explanation behind the decision that we’re taking, absolutely.”
On March 17 the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) advised against all non-essential international travel as part of efforts to limit the spread of the global pandemic.
When the virus first started spreading, 32 British and European evacuees repatriated from a cruise ship were put in quarantine for 14 days after being flown home, despite testing negative to having COVID-19 before they flew back from Japan.