The Scottish Mail on Sunday
France fiasco: Cabinet at war
Javid accused of spooking PM into Amber-plus Move came on day study said AZ does beat variant
HEALTH Secretary Sajid Javid was last night accused of ‘frightening’ Boris Johnson into making his ill-fated decision to move France into the Amber-plus travel category.
Insiders say the decision – which has thrown the plans of thousands of holidaymakers into chaos by requiring them to quarantine for up to ten days even if they are double vaccinated against coronavirus – was taken at a meeting on July 16 attended by Mr Javid, Prime Minister Mr Johnson and senior scientific advisers, but not Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
A source claimed Mr Javid had overreacted to claims that the AstraZeneca vaccine might not work against the South African – or Beta – variant responsible for about 10 per cent of Covid-19 cases in France, although many are in its Indian Ocean territories of Reunion and Mayotte.
In fact, on the day the decision was taken, new research was available showing a single AZ dose was 83 per cent effective at stopping hospitalisations caused by the South African strain, only slightly lower than its 88 per cent protection against the Indian (Delta) variant.
The Mail on Sunday understands that another fear raised by Government advisers was the theoretical risk of someone becoming simultaneously infected with both
‘Department of Health must be feeling stupid after backlash’
Beta and Delta strains, leading to a ‘recombined’ mutant with turbo-charged transmissability and vaccine resistance.
To compound days of damaging headlines over its handling of the pandemic, the Government may now be forced to take France off the Amber-plus list within a week.
The source said: ‘Saj frightened the PM to death. Shapps was so p **** d off that the decision was taken without him being present. No 10 and the Department of Health must now be feeling pretty f ****** stupid after the backlash.’
The meeting on July 16 took place shortly before Mr Javid tested positive for Covid-19, a result that has forced the Prime Minister to quarantine at Chequers, his country estate in Buckinghamshire.
Jonathan Van-Tam, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, is understood to have lobbied hard for France to be classified as Amberplus, or even Red, which would force returning travellers to pay for ten days in a quarantine hotel.
Some MPs have privately expressed surprise at reports that it was Mr Javid who persuaded the
Prime Minister to return France to quarantine controls because the
Health Secretary had been expected to be less cautious on
Covid restrictions than Matt Hancock, his predecessor. But the source claimed that Mr Javid ‘already appears to have gone native’ and had been ‘captured’ by his officials. The row came as:
Infections fell for the fourth day in a row, with 31,795 cases, down from 46,558 on July 20;
The vaccination rollout neared its latest milestone with 70 per cent of adults – 36.9million people – expected to have been fully vaccinated by today;
Downing Street prepares to launch a social media blitz to persuade the young to have the jab by highlighting the 33 countries they can visit if double vaccinated;
Labour warned holiday plans of nearly six million Britons could be ruined if Spain and Greece – where the Beta variant is also in circulation – joins France on the Amberplus list. Shadow Transport Secretary Jim McMahon accused Mr Johnson of ‘presiding over a summer of chaos’;
On the busiest travel weekend of the year, people arriving at Heathrow had to wait up to three hours at passport control after the pingdemic left one official on duty;
Aviation experts said flights were being cancelled or moved in part due to the pingdemic;
Allies of Mr Johnson compared his battle with coronavirus to Margaret Thatcher’s fight against inflation in the 1980s;
Pop-up vaccination centres in Scotland were largely empty as a bid to encourage younger people to have their jabs faltered.
Mr Javid yesterday announced that he had made a full recovery and that his ‘symptoms were very mild, thanks to amazing vaccines’.
He tweeted: ‘Please – if you haven’t yet – get your jab, as we learn to live with, rather than cower from, this virus.’
The Government sought to defuse the row over the France quarantine decision by insisting it had been made on expert advice.
A spokesman said: ‘The Joint Biosecurity Centre assessed that France is a high-risk Covid-19 destination due to the circulation of variants of concern, most notably the Beta variant, which is the variant that presents the greatest risk for vaccine escape.’
He said that with restrictions easing for double-vaccinated travellers, the Government’s priority was ‘to stop the spread of Covid-19, including protecting our borders from the threat of variants.
‘The decision to add countries to the Red, Amber or Green lists is made jointly by Ministers, informed by the latest scientific data and public health advice.’