Across the UK, the infection rate continues to level off and decrease. On Wednesday, the UK recorded 84,881 fewer new cases on the previous week but deaths continue to rise with 1,725 deaths reported on Wednesday. On Tuesday, the death toll surpassed 100,000 with Boris Johnson saying he was “deeply sorry” for every death and that he takes "full responsibility for everything that the government has done”. The awful death toll means that the UK has become the first European nation to surpass 100,000 deaths thus far. In better news, the results from the Imperial College’s REACT show that there are early signs that lockdown is working with infections flattening last week and some early indications of a small decline this week.
On Wednesday, Boris Johnson announced that the earliest date for schools potentially returning in England would be 8th March. It’s worth noting that this is the earliest they might go back and not the definitive date for the beginning of the easing of restrictions. Johnson effectively signalled that the lockdown will be extended for a further three weeks come the middle of February and that a “roadmap” out of lockdown would be published by the 22nd February, with schools being the first to open. Again Johnson was keen to stress that this would be heavily caveated on the basis of the prevalence of the virus decreasing and vaccine immunity beginning to kick in.
Borders and quarantine hotels
After much speculation this week, Priti Patel announced on Wednesday that travellers flying into the UK from some high risk countries would have to quarantine in hotels for 10 days without exception. In a further development, the Home Secretary announced that anyone wishing to travel out of the UK would now have to declare - to their chosen airline - the reason for travelling and when this reason did not comply with the current lockdown rules, they would have to return home and may be fined. Yet less than a day after Patel’s announcement and the devolved governments look set to diverge from the policy. In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon said that at a “minimum” she would emulate the UK policy but said it was likely that Scotland would go further, promising to lay out any further rules for Scotland next week.
An extraordinary row between the EU and the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca has broken out this week , potentially threatening supplies of the Pfizer jab headed for the UK. The row broke out last week when AstraZeneca announced that it would have to cut deliveries of the Covid-19 vaccine to the EU by 60% due to production issues, leaving the EU’s vaccine rollout plan in doubt. AstraZeneca refused to divert doses made at sites in Oxford and Staffordshire to the EU. The war of words between the EU and the pharmaceutical company quickly turned acrimonious, with the EU accusing AstraZeneca of a breach of contract. The company countered that it had not offered any certainty that it would be able to deliver 100m doses to the EU in the first quarter of this year, saying it agreed to make “best efforts” given the vagaries of producing the vaccine and its other contractual obligations. In an interview with La Republica, the company’s CEO implied that because the UK had signed a contract three months prior to the EU, they had therefore had more time to streamline the production process in the UK. The EU continues to insist that the company should divert jabs made in the UK, and intended for the UK market, to the EU. On Thursday, the EU commission said that a new EU mechanism will allow national regulators to refuse exports of the Pfizer vaccine as part of their response to the shortage of doses. This has raised fears that millions of doses of the vaccine destined for the UK may now be blocked from entering the UK. So far, Boris Johnson has refused to be drawn on the escalating argument between the EU and AstraZeneca and insists that he is not worried about supply issues.