UK could be plunged into ‘full lockdown’ over new variant, Tories admit

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The Government could announce a relaxation of international travel rules later today – but there are fears that the country could fall back into lockdown.

Earlier this month, the World Health Organisation put the globe on red alert over the Mu variant, which is believed to have begun in Colombia and spread across South America.

Environment secretary George Eustice highlighted the need for ministers and health officials to balance keeping the travel industry afloat and protecting the country from coronavirus mutations.

Speaking to Sky News, he said: "Arguably the biggest threat to the travel industry is that we do get another variant that manages to get around the vaccine, that the vaccine can’t deal with, then we’re into another full lockdown – and that’s not what we want.

"That’s why we’ve taken this cautiously, step by step, because we want each step we take to be irreversible."

TUI UK managing director Andrew Flintham added: "There are hundreds of businesses out there who will not survive this winter unless changes are made."

Under current rules, everyone returning from green list countries must take a Covid lateral flow test before their return and submit a PCR test just two days after being back in the UK.

The government will remove the requirement for fully vaccinated travellers to take a lateral flow test before heading to their destination the need for a costly PCR test on their return into Britain.

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This will come as welcome news to many as PCR tests can sometimes add hundreds of pounds per person to a trip.

Talking about the switch to lateral flows, Mr Eustice said: "I haven’t heard that because I’m not on that particular sub-committee that deals with this.

"They will want to consider all the evidence before taking a final decision.

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"The rationale for the PCR test is that you can do genome sequencing of variants and you can, therefore, detect possible variants of concern.

"The difficulty with the lateral flow test, although it is cheaper and simpler to do, it is not able to pick up those variants.

"So, that’s the rationale and that’s been the rationale so far for making sure we keep some of that PCR testing in place."

  • Lockdown
  • Coronavirus

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