Data released today by the Government for February’s UK arrivals from abroad shows fewer than half of overseas visitors had received a third ‘top-up’ Covid jab. It also reveals only 35.9% believed testing was very important – even though the UK’s pre-flight testing requirements did not end until March.
A leading testing expert says that the UK’s current Covid strategy relies on high levels of antibodies in the population and that Covid variants with milder symptoms, such as newer Omicron BA. 2, remain dominant.
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The end of compulsory mask-wearing and even free testing means the country will be ‘caught with its pants down’ if a new, more severe strain arrives from overseas, warns Dr Quinton Fivelman PhD, Chief Scientific Officer at London Medical Laboratory,
Says Dr Fivelman: ‘As Britain’s weather improves, an increasing number of overseas visitors will return to the UK. That’s great for our tourism industry. However, the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) data on attitudes towards Covid among UK arrivals reveals only 49% of overseas residents had received more than two jabs. In contrast, almost 70% of UK nationals returning to the country from a trip abroad had received at least three vaccinations. It also shows that nearly 20% of overseas visitors believe testing is “not at all important” or “not very important” for safety.
‘The UK’s removal of Covid restrictions, including the reckless step of ending free tests from the beginning of this month, is based on significant numbers of the UK population having sufficient antibodies to the virus, largely due to our successful vaccinations policy.
‘However, that delicate balance could be endangered due to increasing numbers of overseas tourists who have not been triple jabbed and who do not believe testing increases safety. The likelihood is that virus mutations appear in populations where the disease is widespread, but people have not acquired high levels of immunity. It is considered likely that people with compromised immune systems, perhaps because they are already suffering from another illness and then catch Covid as well, may be a significant cause of new variants.
‘Looking at this survey of attitudes, rising numbers of overseas residents arriving in the UK will increase the likelihood of a new variant arriving here. With all the UK’s Covid defences down, a highly transmissible variant with more severe symptoms than the current dominant strain (omicron BA. 2) could sweep through the population before we have time to repair our Covid defences. Research has shown that people lose their Covid-19 immunity over time and this will become more of a pressing issue as we enter the summer months.
‘The Government should at least reconsider its myopic decision to end free testing. It should also develop rapid response plans to impose compulsory pre-flight tests for visitors from countries reporting a significant new variant. Otherwise, this report reveals our current laissez faire attitude to Covid testing could cost us dear this summer.
‘For anyone concerned about their antibody levels and how effective their inoculation has been, taking a quantitative Covid antibody test is recommended. The new generation blood tests available from London Medical Laboratory are highly accurate, quick and simple to carry out, either at home through the post, or at one of the many drop-in clinics that offer this test across London and the southeast.’