Tougher border controls are required on travel from Europe to protect the UK from the “real risk” of Covid variants that could undermine the UK’s vaccination program, says leading epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson.

The academic from Imperial College who was the Government adviser behind the UK’s first lockdown said ministers should reconsider the number of exemptions to the current travel restrictions from Europe and extend testing to everyone entering the country.

Professor Ferguson said cases of the new South African variant were being detected every week in the UK amid concerns that the Astra Zeneca vaccine on which the UK relied was  “particularly vulnerable” to it.

“The key thing is the risk of importing variants which might undermine our vaccination program,” he said. “The concern here is the proportion of cases in many European countries which are this variant, up to four or five percent in France, up to 17 to 20 percent in Luxembourg.

“Rather than red list countries that are far away, where the real policy challenge in mitigating risk is in travel to Europe.”

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