Government feared closing borders at start of COVID would be seen as racist, Dominic Cummings says

·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·3 min read

Government feared closing borders at start of COVID outbreak would be seen as racist, Dominic Cummings says

Government officials feared closing the UK’s borders at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak would be seen as racist, Dominic Cummings has claimed.

Cummings, as part of damning evidence given to MPs about Downing Street's handling of the pandemic on Wednesday, suggested such a move would be seen as “blaming China”, where the virus originated.

Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser was appearing at a mammoth joint meeting of the House of Commons health and social care and science and technology committees.

Cummings said of the UK’s border policy before April last year: “We were all told repeatedly, the advice is not to close the border, that essentially it would have no effect.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 23: Passengers are escorted through the arrivals area of terminal 5 towards coaches destined for quarantine hotels, after landing at Heathrow airport on April 23, 2021 in London, England. From 4am this morning, passengers landing in the UK from India are now required to stay in isolation at government-approved hotels for ten days, in a bid to prevent the spread of a new strain of the COVID-19 virus. Indian health services are currently struggling to fight soaring infection rates and a rapidly-rising death toll. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Dominic Cummings told MPs that the government was advised closing borders would have no effect at the start of the pandemic. (Getty Images)

“At this time, another kind of groupthink thing was it’s basically racist to call for closing the borders and blaming China and the whole China New Year thing and everything else.

“That in retrospect was just obviously completely wrong.”

In mid-March last year, the UK abandoned asking people to quarantine for two weeks after arriving from areas with high infection rates, such as Hubei province in China and Italy.

The decision was in contrast to many other countries, such as New Zealand, which has been widely praised for getting the pandemic under control – partly through strict border measures.

The UK government then introduced blanket quarantine restrictions in June for all international travellers, except those coming from Ireland, while “travel corridors” with countries deemed to have safe levels of infection were established a month later.

Cummings refused to blame the PM for the border policy before April.

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“That was the official advice. The official advice was categorically closing the borders will have no effect.”

After April he said there was a switch to "plan B", with increased testing and investment in the vaccine programme, for example. 

However, "there was no proper border policy," Cummings said, "because the prime minister never wanted a proper border policy".

He said of this: “We’re imposing all of these restrictions on people domestically but people can see that everyone is coming in from infected areas, it’s madness, it’s undermining the whole message that we should take it seriously."

After Cummings claimed Johnson had not wanted to introduce “proper” border restrictions, Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who is chair of the home affairs committee, tweeted: “13 March 2020 Govt lifted all Covid border measures – there wd be nothing in place until 8 June. Even since, border policies have been late, chaotic or full of gaps.

“I’ve raised this repeatedly w Ministers. Never understood why Govt policy was so terrible. This is explanation.”

Watch: Led by donkeys': Dominic Cummings says it's crackers Boris Johnson is our prime minister

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