Edward Argar unable to name single European country with higher coronavirus infection rate than UK

Sophia Sleigh
Health Minister Edward Argar speaks to BBC Breakfast: BBC Breakfast

A health minister was unable to name a single country in Europe with a higher coronavirus infection rate than the UK, despite being asked three times.

Edward Argar was quizzed this morning over the Government’s quarantine policy which has sparked a rebellion from Conservative MPs who say the plans are damaging to business.

The plans, which come into force on June 8, require people arriving in the UK to isolate for 14 days to prevent coronavirus cases being brought from overseas.

Mr Argar told the BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the policy was necessary to "minimise the risk of the disease being "reimported" and Britain experiencing a “second wave”.

He was asked for a second time to name a country in Europe with a higher Covid-19 infection rate than Britain but was unable to do so.

He said Home Secretary Priti Patel would set out more details later today, adding: “One of the mitigating aspects for the industry and others that has been discussed a lot is this concept of ‘air bridges’ where you do come to agreements with other countries where they are happy with your level of infection and control of it and you are happy with theirs.

“I don’t want to pre-empt though the detail exactly around what you are talking about.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel (10 Downing Street/AFP via Getty)

BBC presenter Nick Robinson asked again: “To ask you, for a third time, can you name anywhere that meets that criteria in Europe?”

Mr Argar replied: “The scientific advice is this is the right thing to do at this point to continue to contain the virus in this country and indeed…”

Mr Robinson interrupted him: “Shall we move on? Because you can’t answer that question or you are choosing not to.”

This afternoon Ms Patel will make a statement to MPs in the Commons that set out the quarantine plans.

Writing in today’s Telegraph, Ms Patel and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps argued that the quarantine rules are needed to prevent a second wave of coronavirus hitting Britain this summer. They also said that alternative options such as airport temperature checks or spot tests are too unreliable to keep Britain safe.

The London Chamber of Commerce, which represents more than 2,000 companies in the capital, said the plan “sends out the message that the UK is closed for business”.

In a letter to ministers, chief executive Richard Burge said: “This blanket aviation proposal doesn't appear to be risk-based.

“If it was, it would recognise that arrivals from some countries with much lower transmission levels than the UK and low incidence of the disease would not increase our risk, provided they adopted our social distancing protocols on arrival.

"The proposal sends out the message that the UK is closed for business, at a time when we are beginning to restart our economy.”

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