Fewer than 300 of the 18 million who arrived in the UK from coronavirus hotspots in the three months before lockdown began were put into quarantine, new figures show.
That is according to data provided to Labour MP Stephen Doughty by the Home Office.
Between 1 January and 23 March only people on three evacuation flights from Wuhan in China, the source of the outbreak, and one from Japan carrying cruise ship passengers, were put in isolation when they touched down in Britain – a number Doughty said “beggars belief”.
Meanwhile the total passenger figures for the same period show that in those three months just under 18.1 million people entered the country by rail, road, sea or sky.
The data was released amid questions over the government's decision not to quarantine more passengers as the virus began to spread across the world.
Doughty told The Guardian: “The admission that just four flights from two locations, barely a few hundred individuals – out of literally millions of arrivals – were formally quarantined while the pandemic was already raging in a series of locations beggars belief.
“On what scientific basis were a handful of flights from Wuhan and one from a Tokyo singled out for extreme attention?
“But not a single flight from Northern Italy, Spain or the US?”
He added: “The fact that many of these people then likely arrived and travelled onwards across the UK with little or no adherence to social distancing, and with no checks or protections at the border – barely a whiff of hand sanitiser – is deeply disturbing.”
Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour’s shadow home secretary, added: “It appears crucial opportunities were missed, meaning significant numbers of people may have been entering the country with coronavirus.”
But a government spokesperson said: "Our approach to tackling coronavirus is, and has always been, driven by the latest scientific and medical advice, and procedures at the border have been strictly following the latest government guidance throughout.
"The scientific advice showed that placing restrictions at the border would not have had a significant impact on the spread of the virus in the UK.
"Passenger numbers arriving in the UK are currently down by 99% but we continue to keep this under review."