By William James and Michael Holden
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will announce new tougher border measures on Wednesday to stop new variants of COVID-19 getting into the country, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said as he promised to deliver a roadmap out of lockdowns that have shuttered much of the economy.
The government is expected to bring in quarantine hotels for those coming to Britain from high-risk countries where new strains of the coronavirus have emerged – so-called red list nations – such as South Africa and those in South America.
The move comes as Britain’s death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 100,000, the first European state to reach that figure, leading to further questions about Johnson’s handling of the crisis.
“The Home Secretary (interior minister) will be setting out later today…even tougher measures for those red list countries where we are particularly concerned about new variants,” Johnson told parliament when asked about plans to strengthen Britain’s borders.
Britain saw infections soar at the end of last year after a highly-contagious new variant that emerged in southeast England surged through the population, taking cases and later deaths to record levels.
Since the start of January, all the United Kingdom has faced lockdowns which have closed schools, pubs and restaurants to all bar takeaways with the public told they must stay home as much as possible.
Johnson and his ministers have faced repeated questions, including from many in his own party, on when measures would be eased especially with regard to school closures. He told lawmakers he would address that issue later on Wednesday when he is due to host a media conference.
“Then in the course of the next few weeks, assuming the vaccine rollout continues well, assuming we don’t find new variants of concern…I will be setting out a broader roadmap for the way forward for the whole country,” he said.
With 100,162 recorded deaths, Britain has the world’s fifth highest toll from COVID-19 and the highest deaths per 100,000 people in the world.
Johnson said he felt deep sorrow about the loss of life when the figures were announced on Tuesday, but said the government had done everything it could.
Asked repeatedly by the leader of the Labor opposition Keir Starmer why Britain had fared so badly, he said there would be a time to learn the lessons of what happened but “I don’t think that moment is now” when 37,000 people were still in hospital suffering from the virus.
“There are no easy answers, perpetual lockdown is no answer,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Angus MacSwan)