AN SNP MP has called on a tightening of travel borders across the UK and Ireland to prevent importing mutant viruses.

Philippa Whitford, speaking during a debate on coronavirus this afternoon, told MPs that the countries which had experienced the SARS epidemic of 2002 had coped better during this pandemic as they had quickly learned lessons from the past.

She added that many of these countries were now seeing their economies return to normal.

The Central Ayrshire MP explained: "The countries which have suffered the least economic harm are those with previous experience of SARS who, last February, quickly acted on their learning from the epidemic of 2002.

“They initially closed their borders and have since maintained tight border control with testing and strict quarantine of all arrivals.

“These countries like Taiwan, New Zealand and Singapore, all now have domestic economies that are fully open and societies engaged in the pleasures of sporting event, dining out, or simply having a few friends round.”

Ms Whitford said that while it was positive that travellers arriving in the UK now had to be tested for the virus, the lateral flow devices used for tests were not suitable.

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She also urged the Government to make the “common travel area” of the UK and Ireland Covid secure.

She said: “Let's avoid importing any more dangerous COVID variants by tightly controlling the external borders of the UK, and through cooperation with the devolved nations, and the Republic of Ireland, try to make the whole common travel area COVID secure.

“I welcomed the plan to require pre-travel tests for those coming to the UK, but they should be PCR tests, not lateral flow devices which miss over half of those carrying the virus.”

The MP also said that the UK Government should not be spending an “eye-watering” sum of money on the lateral flow tests, and instead should “fund the expansion of NHS labs” which could provide a faster result from the more accurate tests available for coronavirus.

Finally Ms Whitford added that the current lockdown was essential and said the government should not be focussing on an end date, and instead treat the public “like grown ups”.

She said: “Rather than already discussing arbitrary end dates for this lockdown. It needs to be maintained long enough to fully suppress the current outbreak.”

Dr Liam Fox, Conservative MP, criticised Deputy First Minister John Swinney during his contribution to the debate, by saying his comments at the weekend that a referendum was a priority were a “damning indictment of nationalistic fanaticism over independence.”

Mr Swinney told a reporter on Sunday that a second referendum was an “essential priority” in the country’s response to the pandemic.

Dr Fox said: “The people of Scotland are asking 'Will I get my vaccine soon as a response to COVID? Will I get my business support as a response to COVID?'

“What about the Scottish Government? The Deputy First Minister says a second referendum is a critical response to COVID.

"What a damning indictment of nationalist fanaticism over independence, taking greater importance than the needs of the Scottish people.

"We can deal with public health emergencies much better as a United Kingdom.”

Health minister Edward Argar told MPs he hopes the new restrictions will not have to be in place until March 31, and said that the restrictions would be reviewed as soon as it was “safe to do so”.

He said: “Our regulations provide for these new restrictions until 31 March 2021. I hope they may not be needed for as long as that, but that time allows us to take steady, controlled and evidence-led decisions including moving places through tiers on a local basis, again, when it is safe to do so…But sadly we are not in that place as we stand here and debate this today.”