Millions of international passengers have passed through Luton and Heathrow airports during the pandemic, figures suggest.

In fact people boarded or got off international flights at Luton airport 2,263,833 times between April and November, the latest Civil Aviation Authority data shows.

But this was still only 18 per cent of the 12.3 million recorded over the same period in 2019.

And in Heathrow people boarded or got off the airport 5,802,015 times, which was only 11 per cent of the 52.8 million recorded in 2019.

The figures include arrivals and departures, and travellers who changed from one aircraft to another as part of the same journey.

Around 19.5 million passengers travelled to and from UK airports included in the data in the eight months to November, although this was down 90 per cent from around 186 million the previous year.

The Government recently scrapped all “travel corridors” – which had allowed people to enter the country from certain destinations without self-isolating – to prevent the spread of new Covid-19 variants.

The major policy shift came after ministers announced inbound travellers must now test negative for Covid-19 before boarding a plane.

But the Government has come under fire for not acting sooner to tighten up the UK’s borders.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended travel measures after it was reported that Home Secretary Priti Patel had backed tougher restrictions during the early stages of the pandemic.

In remarks first reported by political website Guido Fawkes, Ms Patel allegedly told the Conservative Friends of India: “On ‘should we have closed our borders earlier’, the answer is yes. I was an advocate of closing them last March.”

Labour’s shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said: “The Government’s dither and delay in taking action saw vital opportunities to help curb the spread of the virus missed.

“Their lack of a clear strategy, including a proper airport testing regime, was seemingly a concern for even the Home Secretary.

“Labour has called for ministers to come to Parliament to explain what has been learned from these critical mistakes and outline a proper strategy for protecting our borders against emerging strains of the virus.”

Asked about calls to close UK borders to foreign visitors, Environment Secretary George Eustice told Sky News “we always keep these things under review", adding: “And it has been considered.”

The most common country for international departures and arrivals at Heathrow Airport was Italy – around 545,000 passengers passed through the airport between April and November on their way to or from the European nation.

This was followed by Germany (511,000) and the USA (419,000).

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of industry body Airlines UK, said he supported the recent government measures to "keep borders safe and the public protected".

"However with the lockdown, travel ban and now mandatory pre-departure testing, UK airlines have started 2021 having taken one step forwards and two steps back," he said.

It is vital airlines get further financial support as part of a recovery plan, Mr Alderslade added.

A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: “The UK border has remained open to ensure critical flows of goods and people have been able to continue, while measures for new arrivals such as self-isolation and testing are helping to keep the public safe.”