Brits are still not banned from travelling to Vietnam even though a potentially dangerous new Covid variant has been found there.
It emerged over the weekend that a strain of the virus appearing to be a hybrid of the UK and Indian variants, both of which are fast-spreading, appeared in the country.
The red list was drawn up to slash the risk of Britain importing new variants of the virus that could risk vaccines not working.
There was uproar among scientists and politicians when it took weeks for India to be added despite it having the world’s worst outbreak – and a variant that emerged there is now dominant in the UK and threatens to wreck plans to end lockdown.
Despite this and the revelation that a new variant has sprung up in Vietnam, the country remains on the amber list, which means hotel quarantine isn’t required.
The variant is not yet internationally recognised so it is unknown whether it has spread to other countries.
Labour MP and shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth today slammed the Government’s ‘weak, slow decisions on border policy’ for letting in the Indian strain.
The travel lists are due to be updated later this week after international travel was legalised on May 17.
Vietnam’s tough crackdown on the virus meant it has been largely untouched by the virus with a total of just 7,107 cases and 47 deaths since the start of the pandemic. But that number of cases has more than doubled from just 2,900 at the beginning of May, which the health minister said could be due to the new variant.
Vietnam has so far been relatively untouched by the coronavirus thanks to strict and early action by the communist government (Pictured: A mother and child in Hanoi)
Covid cases have more than doubled in Vietnam in May, which the health minister said could be because of the new variant. The total number is still extremely low at just over 7,000 by yesterday, May 30
Dr Nguyen Thanh Long said the new strain could be behind the variant now being in 30 of the country’s 63 provinces.
He did not specify the number of cases that have been recorded with the new variant, but said Vietnam would announce more details soon.
It is likely to have been circulating for a month already, based on how Vietnam’s cases surged, and scientists in Britain have said it’s vital to act fast to try and keep out new variants – although they admit it is impossible to stop it forever.
EUROPE HOLIDAY HOTSPOTS SET TO STAY ON AMBER LIST
The lockdown ban on international travel came to an end on May 17 but only a handful of countries were on the no-quarantine travel list – namely Portugal, Iceland and Gibraltar.
Next week, on June 3, ministers will reconsider whether it’s safe for Brits to go to different destinations and any rule changes will come into action on June 10.
Malta and the Balearic Islands, as well as some Greek islands, could find themselves on the list, The Independent reports, and Spain’s tourism boss is hopeful that the travel to more of the country’s territory could be on the cards soon.
The mainland and Italy and France are unlikely to make it onto the green list this time, however, because they still have higher infection rates than the UK.
Ministers are judging the safety of countries based on their numbers of cases, vaccination progress and risk of new variants emerging.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has hinted that the green list could be expanded in the coming weeks but has said only that it was a hope, not a certainty.
Boris Johnson was slated by MPs after allowing thousands of people to fly to the UK from India after the variant had emerged there.
Yvette Cooper, Labour MP and shadow foreign secretary, said about the Indian variant spreading in Britain: ‘This was not inevitable, it is just the latest in a long list of examples where the Government was too slow to act at the border,’ The Telegraph reported.
‘Instead of adding India to the “red list” at the start of April, when it added neighbouring countries like Pakistan, the Government inexplicably waited another two weeks.’
She added: ‘If we had learned the lessons from the countries who got this right during the first wave, we would have taken precautionary action early to keep this new variant out. Yet the Government is still making the same basic mistakes at the border all over again.’
Jonathan Ashworth said today: ‘The single biggest threat to [ending lockdown] is ministerial incompetence.
‘Today ministers remain engulfed and distracted by internal rows and blame shifting at just the moment we need a laser like focus on this variant.
‘Weak, slow decisions on border policy let this variant in, continued lack of sufficient self-isolation support and a stand off with local public health directors over vaccination policy failed to contain it.’
Vietnam, which is in South East Asia beneath China and on the South China Sea coast, is a popular travel destination and in normal years hundreds of thousands of Brits visit.
Although the Government is advising people not to go there at the moment it is not illegal, if they can get a visa from the Vietnamese government, and hotel quarantine isn’t required when arriving back in the UK.
The purpose of the red and amber travel lists was to minimise the risk of a new variant being imported into Britain and countries were added to red if this risk was high.
The Department for Transport says: ‘You should not travel to amber list countries or territories.’
However, people who are not British citizens or residents are allowed into Britain if they have been to an amber list country, which they aren’t for red list nations.
Vietnam’s coronavirus case count is near zero compared to the UK, where at least five million people have tested positive and many more had it without ever getting tested
There has been a small increase in daily infections in Vietnam but it is still significantly lower than in Britain, where there are still thousands of people testing positive each day
And quarantine after travelling can be done at home for 10 days, whereas for red list travellers it must be in a dedicated quarantine hotel. There is a greater risk of people skipping out on self-isolation if they are simply asked to do it at home.
Not much is known about the Vietnamese variant but Dr Nguyen Thanh Long said it appeared to look like a combination of the Indian and Kent variants.
Both are extremely infectious and he claimed: ‘The characteristic of this strain is that it spreads quickly in the air. The concentration of virus in the throat fluid increases rapidly and spreads very strongly to the surrounding environment.’
There were seven known coronavirus variants in Vietnam before Dr Long’s announcement, according to the Ministry of Health.
The communist country is struggling to deal with fresh outbreaks across more than half of its territory, including industrial zones such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Extra social distancing rules, testing and vaccinations are being brought in to try and control the virus.
The country has ordered a nationwide ban on all religious events and, in major cities, authorities have banned large gatherings, closed public parks and non-essential business including in-person restaurants, bars, clubs and spas.