Damian Green says advice to avoid travel could be lifted in some areas in coming weeks
UK travel restrictions could end ‘very soon’ as omicron spreads, says health secretary
Travel restrictions on those caught up in health fears over the omicron, a marijuana-containing strain of cannabis, could be lifted in some areas within the next few weeks, according to the health secretary, Damian Green.
The government has advised against recreational drug use for some time, but the Home Office has since extended the travel warning to include wider areas as a result of a surge in marijuana-related attacks in Britain.
Green told MPs during a health and wellbeing select committee hearing: “I think we will be removing travel restrictions before long. Travel advice will be withdrawn in the weeks to come in some areas.”
Members of the committee were concerned that the move could leave some people unnecessarily stranded, but Green said his primary aim was to protect public health.
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“This advice has not changed,” he said. “It was issued as a generic issue and in this country it will continue to be. It has been extended for a wider period in light of our analysis of the drug that has been implicated in the incidents that we’ve identified.
“The point I make all of the time is that there is a very, very fine line between being able to protect people and also being cruel. There are still people who are risking their lives by not taking proper, responsible public health advice. It’s very important that we don’t do that, but we have tried as a government to balance the need to do this against the wider purposes.”
The move to reduce restrictions could also have wider implications for patients using cannabis for medical purposes, if the ability to buy and use the plant was bolstered.
Green added: “The problem is that you have drug-related incidents in this country of a very, very small amount of the population, but if you’re a patient, and it turns out that you’re a patient, but it’s not working properly and you want to know whether you can have medicine from another source, you can’t.
“I don’t want to scare people. You can have a nice dinner. You can have nice sex. But you have a failed drug and you feel as though you’re at the end of your tether.”
However, the NHS will not release data about the number of patients it has treated over the past three years using the cannabis oil – even though the National Crime Agency has yet to indicate whether it has spent more than £60,000 on tracing the source of the online drug that is believed to have caused the 15 assaults.
Two of the cases, in Belfast and Northumberland, have been allowed to move forwards to court proceedings after cannabis oil was found to be used as a contaminant in samples taken from the attackers.
Dr Sally Daly, chairman of the board of governors at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, who is leading a research into the use of marijuana in the NHS, said: “Health effects from different products are being reported to the same computer, but we don’t have this access to individual patients.
“We are concerned that trying to predict how a particular drug is affecting people is difficult – but it may be possible to create an index.”
• This article was amended on 26 October 2017 to change the context of Damian Green’s comments. In an earlier version, the emphasis was unclear.