Britain’s vaccine milestone


Britain’s vaccine milestone

The UK hit its target of vaccinating its 15 million most vulnerable citizens this week, in what Boris Johnson hailed as a “significant milestone” in the fight against Covid-19. Although it’s barely two months since the roll-out began, every Briton in the top four priority groups has now been offered their first jab, said the PM. And there are signs that the vaccine, and lockdown measures, are leading to sharp falls in case numbers and deaths: new research by Oxford University found that among the over-80s – a group that has had its first dose – deaths are dropping twice as quickly as among under-65s. Last week, the official estimate of the UK’s R number fell below 1 for the first time since July.

The good news was tempered by the discovery of a new strain of coronavirus in the UK. The mutation, which has similarities to the fast-spreading South African variant, was first spotted in December: it has since been found in 38 people in Britain. In addition, 1.7 million people have been identified by a new algorithm as being at higher risk of Covid than previously thought, and have been asked to shield: 820,000 of them will now be prioritised for vaccination.

Not much about Britain’s response to the pandemic has been “world-beating”, said The Sunday Times. But its vaccine rollout fits that description perfectly. Only Israel and the United Arab Emirates have inoculated a higher proportion of their populations than the UK, where over a fifth of people have had their first dose. And that means we can finally see “a light at the end of this long, dark tunnel”.

For now, the Government is preoccupied with combating new virus variants, said the FT. Rules requiring arrivals into Britain from highrisk countries to quarantine in hotels got off to a rocky start when they came into force this week, with reports of chaotic scenes at airports. And the newly identified mutant strain, which has the potential to lessen the effectiveness of vaccines, is also a cause for concern. But sooner or later, ministers must “set out a path for life to return to something like normal, how it will happen, and how fast”. They should consider introducing vaccine passports, said The Independent. Granted, these have an “unwelcome air of coercion attached to them”. But requiring a certificate to board a plane is “hardly an assault on human rights”, while the roll-out of vaccine passports at home would help “rescue businesses, speed economic recovery and save jobs”.