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But the home secretary told MPs on Wednesday the government’s scientific advisers believed 0.5% of the total number of coronavirus cases in the UK were brought in from abroad.
Speaking to the Commons home affairs committee, Patel insisted she had previously asked officials for an estimate of the number of people arriving in the country who had the disease.
In an appearance before the same committee last week, Shona Dunn, the second permanent secretary at the Home Office, suggested such a request had not been made.
“I do not believe that anyone has asked for that number to be pinned down, given the range of uncertainties that are being dealt with,” Dunn said.
But Patel said today that was “not correct at all”.
Pressed repeatedly on what data she had asked for, Patel said she had asked for both a number and a percentage figure. “I have asked for it,” she said.
Dunn, who was also appearing before the committee today, said Patel “has asked for a variety of numbers”.
But she added she was “not aware of anyone have asked for a formal assessment” of the number.
Asked how many people she estimated were coming into the country at the moment with coronavirus, Patel said: “That I don’t know.”
“On a daily basis the number of people coming into the country is approximately 50,000.
“I don’t have a figure of people coming into the country on a daily basis with coronavirus.
“That figure is held centrally elsewhere in government with Department for Health [and Social Care] and Public Health England.”
At the start of June the government imposed a two-week quarantine on most arrivals into the UK.
At the time Patel said it would “reduce the risk of cases crossing our border”.
But from July 4 the government opened a series of travel corridors to more than 50 countries including destinations such as France, Italy, and Spain, which meant people could go on holiday without having to isolate when they returned to England.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.