'A slow-moving car crash' - experts call for tougher quarantines as South African variant spreads in Europe

Experts have called for tougher quarantine measures at UK borders as the ‘South African’ variant of Covid-19 gains ground in Europe.

A Turkish Airlines plane arrives at Edinburgh airport. Picture date: Monday February 15, 2021.

Professor Devi Sridhar, Edinburgh University Chair of Global Public Health, likened the current system to a “slow-moving car crash”.

She cited recent warnings from Public Health England that Covid-19 variants are being imported to the UK from countries not on the “red list”, including France and Germany, and concerns that the South African variant is resistant to the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.

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Passengers arriving to Scotland from non-red list countries must spend 14 days in a quarantine hotel, but those arrivals to other parts of the UK can self-isolate at home, prompting fears of virus spread across the border between England and Scotland.

Devi Sridhar, Chair of Global Public Health at Edinburgh University.

"Watching a slow-moving car crash as UK govt stays open to France and other European countries, which have a S. African variant our main vaccine (AZ) doesn’t work against,” Prof Sridhar wrote on Twitter.

"Red list approach doesn’t work. We need blanket int’l quarantine to avoid future lockdowns.”

Anthony Costello, former director of the Institute for Global Health at the University College London, said he “simply does not understand” the current policy.

"The S. Africa variant is 10% of cases in France + appears largely resistant to AZ vaccine,” he tweeted.

Professor Neil Ferguson.

"It cd replace the British variant as cases fall here. I simply don't understand why UK policy is vaccines or lockdowns, + ignores local FTTI teams. And why govt advisers say nothing.”

Prof Sridhar added: “I try to provide balanced & realistic information with clear info. No one wants a longer lockdown or a lockdown next winter. So get ahead of risks and anticipate them rather than hearing later ‘no one saw this coming.’”

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A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that two doses of the AstraZeneca jag had only a 10.4 per cent efficacy against the South African variant of Covid-19.

Prof Sridhar stressed that the vaccine still offers some protection, and advised people to still accept a vaccine.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said this week that the UK Government will “look at” putting France on the quarantine red list due to concerns over the South Africa Variant.

“There is a balance to be struck and what we don’t know is the exact state of the efficacy of the vaccines against the new variants and we have to balance that against the very serious disruption that is entailed by curtailing cross-Channel trade,” he said on Tuesday.

“This country depends very largely for the food in our shops, for the medicines that we need on that trade flowing smoothly.

“We will take a decision, no matter how tough, to interrupt that trade, to interrupt those flows, if we think that it is necessary to protect public health and to stop new variants coming in.

“It may be that we have to do that very soon.”

Epidemiologist Neil Ferguson said this week that the UK “cannot stop” the South African variant forever.

"The real concern is things like the South African variant, where the vaccination programme we’re currently using, whilst it would still give some protection against that (variant), the protection would be reduced,” he told the BBC.

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