LONDON – On Tuesday, Britain exceeded 100,000 deaths due to the Corona virus, a tragic milestone that revealed the pitfalls in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s handling of the epidemic, as well as the difficult choices he now faces in trying to preserve them. Fatal new variants From the virus outside the country.
Britain’s death toll has always been the worst in Europe, but a rapidly spreading type of virus has pushed the country’s daily death rates to levels not seen since the height of the pandemic. The first wave in April, Despite the national lockdown. Per capita, the death rate in Britain was the worst in the world over the past week.
“It is difficult to calculate the grief contained in that grim statistic,” Mr Johnson officially said of the death toll of 100,162. “The dictionary of misery will be exhausted. It is a terrible and tragic loss of life.”
Mr Johnson was expected to discuss imposing a mandatory hotel quarantine on travelers arriving in Britain from countries where the virus is seriously spreading. But the details of this plan have not been settled yet, which indicates its far-reaching economic implications and the logistical challenge of housing, feeding and monitoring the thousands of passengers who land at British airports.
Tighter travel restrictions aim to keep new variants from Brazil and South Africa out of Britain. Among the proposals under consideration is one that would require travelers from South Africa, South America and Portugal to quarantine hotels for 10 days after arrival.
That would push Britain toward Australia, which has used hotel quarantine in an often successful attempt to keep the virus outside its borders. But Britain will act in months after Australia and the local alternative has already spread Flooded hospitals.
Speaking to reporters on Downing Street, Johnson refused to delve into the mistakes that, in his government’s handling of the crisis, had worsened the death toll. As many reporters have reminded him, the government once said that keeping the death toll to 20,000 would be a success.
“I am deeply sorry for every lost soul,” Johnson said, adding that he accepted the responsibility. “We really did everything in our power and continued to do everything in our power to reduce the loss of life.”
Johnson’s chief medical advisor, Chris Whitty, was more reflexive, admitting that some of the issues could have been handled better. He said that in the early days of the epidemic, experts did not properly appreciate the importance of face masks, and did not sufficiently understand the importance of transmission without symptoms. As the crisis dragged on, Mr. Witty said, the medical profession has developed new and improved methods of treating COVID-19 patients.
For Mr Johnson, the pandemic has become a grim race between vaccinating the population and stopping new variants, which could lead to another surge in infections. On the vaccines front, Britain continues to make strides, as it has injected 6.8 million people, the fastest pace of any major country.
But in other respects, the government still appears to be late and disorganized. In terms of travel plan, some health experts argue that anything short of a comprehensive hotel quarantine will not be effective. But critics say the government will not be able to handle the logistical challenge, as incoming passengers will fill hotels around London’s Heathrow Airport, the main gateway to the country.
Britain’s plans come as the United States moves to tighten restrictions on foreign visitors. President Biden has rescinded an order by former President Donald J. Trump that would have relaxed the travel ban on non-Americans from Britain, Brazil, South Africa and most of the European Union.
The new US rules, which went into effect on Tuesday, created confusion at Heathrow Airport as British Airways turned down US-bound passengers. This included even some of those who met updated guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control, according to which they must either submit a negative coronavirus test or a doctor’s letter confirming that they have recovered from Covid and are no longer contagious.
For the travel industry, the quarantine will be the latest in a series of strikes that have cost tens of thousands of jobs and pushed some companies, such as the Eurostar train operator, to the brink of a financial precipice.
“It will be another nail in the travel industry’s coffin,” said Stephen Freudman, president of the Travel and Tourism Institute, which pushes for the sector. “The industry understands the motivations and put the nation’s health first, but the very frustrating thing is that the rules change literally week after week.”
In Britain, Mr. Freudman said, “It appears that the doors are closed 12 months late,” adding that this step will further erode confidence at a time when the sector has begun to plan for a recovery.
Even those traveling to and from countries that are not considered high risk will be concerned that the state of danger for those countries may change without warning while they are away. And while some hotels may benefit from accommodating quarantined passengers, that will be a benefit in the short term.
“Who wants to know they have to spend 10 days in a hotel and pay for the privilege?” Mr. Freudman said.
British travel policy has had twists and turns from the start. The government initially argued that the restrictions would not make much difference given that the virus was already circulating in Britain.
Then in July, when she suddenly moved to quarantine travelers from Spain, she embarrassed the minister in charge of aviation policy, the Minister of Transportation, Grant Shaps, who learned of the decision while on vacation – in Spain.
Under the rules in place last summer, travelers from a group of low-risk countries were exempt from the requirement to self-isolate. But the list is revised every week, making the travel decision a gamble for vacationers, thousands of whom have found themselves abroad as the changes have gone into effect.
Britain has been slow to introduce requirements for travelers to show a negative result for a coronavirus test, and when it did so recently, it struggled to provide enough staff to screen arrivals, causing crowded scenes in some airport arrivals.
Some critics argue that the problem with the British system is poor law enforcement, not only in quarantining travelers but asking the British to stay home after testing positive for the virus, or coming into contact with an infected person.
“The elephant in the room here is the number of people we need to self-isolate indoors – and we really have to tackle that,” former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told Sky News.