Scientist calls for Scotland-England border shut down as new figures show half of second wave covid strain came from south

A top geneticist has called for the border between Scotland and England to be effectively shut down, citing a recent study which showed half of new Covid-19 strains responsible for Scotland’s second wave came from south of the border.

There have been repeated calls for further restrictions at the border between England and Scotland.
There have been repeated calls for further restrictions at the border between England and Scotland.

It comes as new measures were announced meaning travellers entering Scotland from abroad will need to show a negative Covid-19 test taken 72 hours before departure.

The system will be enforced by Border Force, responsible for the UK border.

Border restrictions are already in place between Scotland and England, with no non-essential travel permitted. But policing of the rules has come under criticism for being ‘light touch’ by Police Scotland.

Dr Thomas Williams, Edinburgh University.

Now Dr Thomas Christie Williams, a geneticist and clinicial lecturer at Edinburgh University, has called for further enforcement in practice despite logistical difficulties.

“We should shut the border with England for everything except essential travel,” he said.

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"I think it’s something to seriously consider, to start checking people as they cross the border - to ask why they’re crossing and is their travel really essential.

“In Spain and Italy for example police can stop anyone to ask them for a valid reason for travelling.”

Borders are a matter for the UK government, but some legal experts believe the Public Health (Scotland) Act 2008 and the Coronavirus Act 2020 give the Scottish Government the power to do more.

Dr Williams cited a report submitted to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) in December, which indicates the second wave of Covid-19 in Scotland was caused by new strains of the virus brought in from abroad and other parts of the UK.

Researchers analysed the spread of Covid-19 lineages introduced to Scotland during the first wave and compared them with those responsible for the second wave.

They estimated that almost half (47 per cent) of the new Covid-19 strains were introduced to Scotland from England.

Dr Williams added that quarantine periods should also be enforced after travel to Scotland, and should be increased from 10 to 14 days.

“The way in which we enforce quarantine has been pretty pathetic, we haven’t had any strict enforcement the way other countries have done,” he said.

"In New Zealand for example you get sent to a hotel for 14 days. In the UK there’s not really any enforcement. There are fines but it’s very hard to clamp down on people.”

A fast-spreading new variant of Covid-19 was identified in the south-east of England before Christmas.

It has since made its way to Scotland despite a ban on non-essential travel, and now makes up almost half of cases in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon announced this week.

Ms Sturgeon said on Friday that a “four nations” approach will be taken to international travel.

“The risks of international travel are particularly acute at the moment as new strains of this virus emerge and as case numbers globally continue to increase.

“Indeed, that’s why it is – as of now – illegal for anyone to travel to or from Scotland unless it is for an essential purpose, and I want to reiterate that point right now.”

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