The home secretary, Priti Patel, has been told it is “troubling” that she is unable to provide an assessment of the number of travellers entering the UK with coronavirus as quarantine measures are eased.
Appearing before the home affairs select committee, Patel said the advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) continued to suggest that the number of cases brought in from overseas was about 0.5% of all cases in the UK.
But under repeated questioning from Yvette Cooper, the chair of the committee, Patel, along with chief civil servants Matthew Rycroft and Shona Dunn, was unable to provide a figure for the number entering the country with the virus.
The home secretary revealed there were now around 50,000 people coming into the country across all modes of transport. This is up from about 9,000 to 10,000 in April.
Cooper told the home secretary:
It’s quite troubling that none of you seem able to explain just an assessment of the number of people likely to be coming into the country with coronavirus or a proportion of the 50,000.
The efficacy of the 0.5% measure has been challenged by the committee in the past and its members have repeatedly asked for an estimate of the number who entered the UK with the virus. Estimates suggest between 1,300 and 10,000 were brought into the country before 23 March, predominantly from Spain and Italy.
Cooper questioned how the 0.5% figure had not changed since 23 March, when it was the same level.
Rycroft, the permanent secretary at the Home Office, said: “The home sec has asked and received updated estimates of the proportion in the UK that come in from overseas, that number continues to be up to 0.5%. It happens to be the same upper limit as the number from 23 March but it is refreshed advice from Sage.”
Patel was unable to say how many individuals were in forced quarantine after entering the country from overseas but said between 6 June and 12 July there were 383,000 spot checks to assess compliance.
The majority of checks, however, were completed at the border. Dunn, the second permanent secretary, said about 20% of the checks were in the community.
Cooper said that in Spain cases are rising, and asked Patel what the threshold would be for placing Spain back on the quarantine list, meaning arrivals from Spain would have to self-isolate for 14 days.
Patel said she was not involved in the process and deferred to other departments including the Department of Health and Social Care.