Priti Patel insisted all border measures are “under review” after sidestepping calls to publish the science behind the Government’s hotel quarantine policy.
UK nationals and residents returning from 33 “red list” countries where the Government fears coronavirus variants have spread will be kept in hotels for 10 days from February 15.
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds warned the policy is “far too limited”, adding in the Commons: “Analysis over the weekend showed that of the 41 countries that have confirmed they have cases of the South African strain of the virus, 29 are not subject to the hotel quarantine controls, neither are a further six with the Brazilian variant.
“So when will the Government publish the specific scientific basis for its existing red list?”
Home Secretary Ms Patel replied: “Of course, these new health measures at the border are necessary to protect public health and of course our world class vaccination programme.
“We have throughout the pandemic obviously kept all measures under review, that is absolutely right.
“The Labour Party themselves have repeatedly flip-flopped around hotel quarantining measures.”
But Mr Thomas-Symonds warned ministers have been “behind the curve throughout” and called on the Government to put in place “proper protective measures” at the border.
He added: “No formal quarantining system until June last year, and when it was introduced, it’s ineffective, the South African variant already here, border testing only introduced in recent weeks.
“And on the hotel quarantining policy, we hear today that now no formal contracts have been agreed – too little, too late.
“Isn’t the truth the borders policy is a gaping hole in our defences against the virus?”
Ms Patel replied: “Just to restate to all colleagues in the House, health measures at the border have been in place since January last year and those measures have developed, as everyone would expect, as the situation changes and they are calibrated measures.”
Accusing Mr Thomas-Symonds of “playing party politics”, Ms Patel added: “Labour’s behaviour throughout this pandemic has shown the British public that they have got no interest in being constructive or acting in the national interest and I actually think that is exactly what we can see right now.
“The Government is getting on and dealing with this hotel policy.”
Labour’s Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) challenged Ms Patel to close loopholes in border measures.
He said: “Today’s reports of hundreds of travellers coming from the UAE via Dublin show loopholes in the existing quarantine arrangements.
“So why are next week’s new quarantine arrangements not plugging all of those loopholes and making sure everyone who comes in, from whichever country, is covered by them to prevent those loopholes seeing further variants – like the South African one, which is already in my borough of Sefton – coming into this country?”
Ms Patel replied: “All measures are under review.
“Colleagues across Government are working to implement the hotel quarantine policy and the logistics involved in that.”
Ms Patel stressed the need for compliance and enforcement, adding: “We have measures in place at our ports and airports to make sure people are being checked and compliance is being followed.”
Home Office minister Kevin Foster also told MPs that “more than 3.7 million spot checks” of passengers arriving at the border have been conducted.