A member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has said it would not be practical to completely close the UK’s borders to reduce the spread of Covid variants but argued a “significant reduction in the movement of people” was “incredibly important”.

Professor Calum Semple, from the University of Liverpool, would not be drawn on whether he advocated the use of quarantine hotels for all arrivals, The Guardian reported.

Semple was speaking to Radio 4’s Today programme after Downing Street refuted a story in The Times which claimed Sage had advised the government two weeks ago to implement either a blanket travel ban or quarantine hotel stays for all arrivals.

On Monday, Labour tabled a non-binding motion to extend the quarantine hotel system, claiming that confirmation of 105 cases of the South African Covid-19 variant in eight different areas of England showed the government’s approach “wasn’t working”.

Last week, Semple told an ITT virtual forum that he expected travel restrictions to be in place until at least Easter, after which time they may begin to be relaxed because “we will have vaccinated the vast majority of people at risk of severe disease” and “the weather improves”.

He also described so-called “vaccine passports” as advocated by former prime minister Tony Blair as “a possibility” to allow travel to resume.

Speaking today, he said: “It’s much easier if you’re a small island such as the Isle of Man to close the borders.

“Britain is a complex transit country and it’s a much harder decision to make there. But, in general, I do support restricting movement, particularly of people in this time.

“You can’t do it altogether when you get a country that’s dependent on imports for food and other essential processes, it’s just not practical, but yes a significant reduction in the movement of people is incredibly important at present.”