UK defends late clampdown on travel from India

The Indian variant is now the dominant strain of COVID in certain parts of the UK.

UK defends late clampdown on travel from India

LONDON — The U.K. government defended its decision not to impose tough restrictions on travel from India sooner as health officials grapple with the impact of the B1.617.2 coronavirus variant.

India was seeing more than 100,000 COVID cases a day by April 5 but was not added to the “red list” until April 23, after Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Boris Johnson had been due to travel to India in late April to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi for trade talks, and only canceled his visit a few days in advance. 

The prime minister’s official spokesman insisted in a briefing on Tuesday that a clampdown was introduced “as soon as it [the variant of concern] was identified.”

Asked why the U.K. had not banned flights from India completely, he said there was “a small number of reasons why people still need to travel” and he was “not aware it is being treated differently” from other countries.

MPs challenged Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Johnson’s canceled India travel plans as he updated the House of Commons on Monday, when Labour’s Paul Blomfield invited him to “admit that the decision not to put India on the red list at that time was influenced by the prime minister’s imminent visit to Delhi and the desire to secure a trade deal.”

Hancock denied this, saying: “We put India on the red list before this variant was even deemed a variant under investigation, let alone a variant of concern. Indeed, we put India on the red list before countries such as Germany and Canada stopped flights from India.”

The so-called Indian variant is now the dominant strain of COVID in certain parts of the U.K. and has thrown plans for the full lifting of England-wide restrictions on June 21 into doubt.

The government also faced questions on apparently contradictory advice on travel destinations, after Environment Secretary George Eustice told BBC Radio 4: “We don’t want to stop travel altogether and the reason … that we have the amber list is there will be reasons why people feel they need to travel either to visit family or indeed to visit friends.”

However, the Downing Street spokesman told journalists afterwards, “People should not travel to amber list countries other than for essential reasons — either for work or compassionate reasons.”

He reiterated “we do not want the public to be traveling to amber list countries” and advised that people should “stick to the green list for holidays.”

The opposition Labour Party pounced on the error, with Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds saying the government’s border plans had “unraveled into dangerous chaos within a matter of hours since international travel was opened up.”

Source : Politico EU More   

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Ministers show ‘complete lack of understanding’ of Boris Johnson’s leveling-up policy

Leveling up started as a policy about regional inequality, but is now so big that ministers appear confused about what it includes.

Ministers show ‘complete lack of understanding’ of Boris Johnson’s leveling-up policy

LONDON — Ministers have been accused of demonstrating “a complete lack of understanding” of the U.K. government’s leveling-up policy to spread wealth to disadvantaged parts of the country, which is meant to be at the heart of Boris Johnson’s premiership.

Leveling up featured prominently in the launch last week of the government’s legislative agenda for the next session of parliament. It promised a white paper to show how the commitment is being delivered later this year, while POLITICO revealed details of a new unit dedicated to its oversight. 

Business Minister Paul Scully and Housing Minister Luke Hall appeared in front of the cross-party business select committee on Tuesday to answer questions on how leveling up will be defined and measured. 

The ministers repeatedly referred to metrics which are already tracked by the government, such as raising productivity and ending rough sleeping, and appeared uncomfortable when asked what the key measures in the white paper would be. 

The mantra originally referred to reducing regional inequalities, but has since been used to refer to plans for improving a wider range of reforms in the areas of law and order, education and climate change.

It is widely seen as central to the Conservative strategy for retaining and expanding its gains in previously Labour-held areas of the country, and its progress or otherwise will inform the timing of the next election.

Clive Betts, Labour chairman of the housing committee, who took part in the session, put it to the ministers they were “talking in generalities,” while his party colleague Charlotte Nichols suggested it was “Schrödinger’s department — everything and nothing at same time.”

Conservative member Mark Pawsey complained: “I’m struggling to understand, because we haven’t got any metrics, where we need to be,” and fellow Tory Paul Howell warned that leveling up “needs to be measurable and understood at a local level” otherwise voters would lose confidence in the concept.

Hall replied it was “about improving life chances” and insisted there are metrics “which speak to this issue.” 

Scully offered: “It’s about improving outcomes right across the U.K. We can see the detachment that people feel about being remote from Westminster so it’s important we have a coherent strategy to deliver those outcomes for people.”

They told the committee that they expected Neil O’Brien, the prime minister’s newly appointed adviser on leveling up, would be able to produce answers to their questions. 

Darren Jones, Labour chairman of the business committee, concluded the session by saying: “Given leveling up is supposedly a flagship policy, I have to say this is one of the poorest ministerial sessions I’ve ever chaired.”

“There’s a complete lack of understanding and policy and direction on what leveling up is and on that basis we wish Neil O’Brien all the best.”

Source : Politico EU More   

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