UK the most likely place in the world for mutant Covid-19 variant says health minister

Britain is the most likely place in the world where a mutant strain of the coronavirus will occur due to the prevailing conditions, a health minister has said.

Giving the stark assessment at Westminster, Tory frontbencher Lord Bethell said the nation “must be on the balls of its feet” to be ready for such “unhelpful news”.

The Conservative peer made his comments as a top scientist warned the risk of a dangerous new variant against which there was no defence was “eventually likely to be inevitable”.

It came amid criticism of the foreign travel red list for quarantining international arrivals, amid claims it was not effective or extensive enough.

Responding to a statement on Covid-19 in the Lords, the renowned broadcaster and leading fertility expert Lord Winston said: “Within six hours of entering a cell, this virus will have replicated leading to millions of copies.

“Some copies will be imperfect, the so-called variants, and time is of the essence.

“The risk of dangerous new variants to which we have no defence is actually eventually likely to be inevitable.”

Branding the red list system for travellers as “ludicrous and ineffectual”, the Labour peer said: “Why does the Government not ensure that all those tens of thousands entering the UK daily are effectively separated, screened, tracked, traced and isolated where necessary before they are lost within minutes somewhere in a British city?”

Replying, Lord Bethell said: “If there’s one place in the world where a mutant variation is likely to happen it will be in an area where you have a high infection rate and a large amount of suppression of the virus by either a lockdown or a vaccine programme.

“If you look around the world that country is most likely to be Britain and we must be on the balls of our feet to be prepared for unhelpful news on that front.”

On border controls, Lord Bethell said: “The number of people travelling in and out of the UK has reduced dramatically and the traffic through our airports and our seaports is down tremendously.

“The application of the red list programme is extremely effective and the use of quarantine hotels has been extremely rigorously enforced.

“We are prepared to go further. We review the red list constantly and should the threats mount up to being serious enough then we would extend the red list as far as necessary.”

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