Johnson Warns U.K. May Need Tougher Border Rules ‘Very Soon’

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The U.K. may need tougher border measures “very soon” to prevent the arrival of coronavirus variants from continental Europe that risk undermining the country’s vaccine roll-out, Boris Johnson said.

Ministers need to balance any decision to impose tighter restrictions -- including potential Covid-19 checks on haulers coming from France -- “against the very serious disruption that is entailed by curtailing cross-Channel trade,” the British prime minister told Parliament on Wednesday.

“This country depends very largely for the food in our shops, for the medicines that we need, on that trade flowing smoothly,” Johnson told the influential House of Commons Liaison Committee. “We will take a decision, no matter how tough, to interrupt that trade, to interrupt those flows if we think that is necessary to protect public health and to stop new variants coming in. And it may be that we have to do that very soon.”

Johnson’s government wants to leverage a vaccine roll-out that has already delivered more than 30 million doses into gradually opening up the economy after the country’s third lockdown. But as case numbers drop in the U.K., countries in Europe are facing a new wave of infections. They include a rise in cases of new variants scientists worry could evade vaccine immunization.

‘Flexible and Cautious’

Johnson also suggested that pub owners may be able to decide whether to require vaccine certification as a condition for entry, a signal of the government’s thinking as it weighs how to re-open the economy. The U.K.’s roadmap for easing restrictions plans lifting most rules on June 21.

On travel, the U.K. currently bans entrants from more than 30 mainly African and South American nations, but not those coming from Europe. Portugal was removed from the so-called red list of travel ban countries on Friday.

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss told ITV’s “Peston” that the government would monitor the situation closely and react quickly to changing circumstances.

“We need to remain flexible and cautious so that our citizens are protected,” Truss said. “We want to keep trade as open as possible.”

Asked whether his medical advisers have recommended he bring in more restrictions and additional testing on haulers coming from France, Johnson replied: “No, actually that isn’t true.” But he also said “there is a balance to be struck, and what we don’t know is the exact state of the efficacy of the vaccines against the new variants.”

Johnson also:

  • said there’s “a growing global consensus” that evidence of vaccination or a negative test may be needed for aviation
  • doubled down on his decision to ban international travel -- except in certain circumstances -- until May 17 at the earliest
  • warned companies may not want to invest in the EU if it imposes “arbitrary blockades” on exports of vaccines

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