It’s likely that over 100,000 people have entered the UK since the lockdown began

21 May 2020
What was claimed

100,000 people have arrived into the UK since the lockdown began.

Our verdict

The government’s estimates on this subject are opaque, but the latest figures it has been using suggest well over 100,000 people will have entered the country since mid- to late March.

What was claimed

An estimated 0.5% of people arriving into the UK have Covid-19.

Our verdict

These were remarks by the Home Office’s Chief Scientific Advisor, which were later clarified to be wrong. 0.5% is an estimate for the proportion of reported Covid-19 cases in the UK believed to have been “imported” from abroad as of 23 March.

“Last night, the Prime Minister said in his speech that he proposed to impose quarantine on people coming into the country by air. Given that 100,000 people have arrived in the UK since the start of lockdown, why is that only being introduced now?”

Keir Starmer, 11 May 2020

In response to the government’s statement to parliament on Monday 10 May about its latest lockdown measures, Labour leader Keir Starmer claimed that 100,000 people had already arrived in the UK since the lockdown began.

We don’t know exactly how many people have entered the UK since the 16 March (when the government first issued guidance for people to avoid non-essential contact with others) or the 23 March (when it first issued instructions for people to stay at home, enforceable by the police). But if anything 100,000 looks likely to be too low.

Last week Professor John Aston, the Home Office’s Chief Scientific Advisor, provided evidence to MPs about his department’s estimates, saying: “The numbers for April I can tell you are that up to the 26th April from aviation there were 95,000 arrivals, of which about 53,000 were UK citizens.” The 95,000 figure was confirmed to us by the Home Office and suggests the total number of arrivals since mid- to late March would have been well in excess of 100,000.

Last month the Health Secretary claimed there were 15,000 arrivals a day happening in mid-April, a claim we fact checked recently. The Home Office told us this figure was wrong, but didn’t provide an alternative estimate at the time, so it’s still not possible to determine if Mr Hancock’s figure was correct. 

Since we wrote that piece, Heathrow Airport has released passenger figures for April, which show a 97% fall compared to the numbers from April 2019. 

How many had Covid-19?

When pressed by MPs as to how many passengers had Covid-19, Professor Aston said: “We believe that less than half a percent of those people arriving potentially had Covid-19”. This line was picked up by a number of newspapers.

However it appears that statement was incorrect; Professor Aston tried to clarify the 0.5% twice more to the committee:

“sorry less than half a percent of those arriving are due to the total cases of Covid-19 in the UK.”

“0.5% of total cases in the UK were estimated to be imported”

When we contacted the Home Office, it told us that Professor Aston had initially misspoken at the committee. It directed us to comments made by the Home Secretary at the start of April, by way of clarifying the department’s figures:

“The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) advised on 23 March that the numbers of cases arriving from other countries are estimated to be insignificant compared with domestic cases, comprising approximately 0.5% of total cases at the time.”

The Home Office said no newer estimates were publicly available.

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