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Coronavirus: Third wave will 'wash up on our shores', warns Johnson

on 24 March 2021

Boris Johnson has warned the effects of a third wave of coronavirus will "wash up on our shores" from Europe. The PM said the UK should be "under no illusion" we will "feel effects" of growing cases on the continent.

One of his ministers, Lord Bethell, also warned the UK might put "all our European neighbours" on the red list of countries, where arrivals are either banned or put in quarantine hotels.

The comments come amid a row over Covid-19 vaccine supplies in the EU. The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen has warned the EU could "forbid" doses made in the bloc from being exported to the UK. EU leaders will hold a virtual meeting on Thursday to discuss their plans.

Officials confirmed the PM spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday about the ongoing issue, which would affect exports of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine made in Europe.

Mr. Johnson said he "talked to EU friends repeatedly" during the pandemic and had been "reassured... over the last few month they don't want to see blockades". Downing Street also said President von der Leyen, had told Mr. Johnson earlier this year that the EU was not intending to restrict exports of vaccines. EU legislation allows measures to be taken "if severe difficulties arise in the supply of certain products" - which, in theory, could include export bans and the waiving of patent and intellectual property rights on vaccines.

But earlier, Mrs von der Leyen's chief spokesman, Eric Mamer, insisted that Brussels was not seeking to ban vaccine exports, but wanted pharmaceutical firms to meet their contractual obligations to the bloc. Mr. Mamer said: "In that context, the president has said that, of course, we see that, actually, companies that manufacture doses in the EU have been exporting very widely - which is in itself a good thing - but that we want to see reciprocity and proportionality in these exports."

Asked if he was worried about the row, Mr. Johnson told reporters: "I am reassured by talking to EU partners over the last few months that they don't want to see blockades." But he went on to issue a warning about what the growing infections in Europe could mean for the UK. The PM said: "On the continent right now you can see, sadly, there is a third wave under way. "And people in this country should be under no illusions that previous experience has taught us that when a wave hits our friends, I'm afraid it washes up on our shores as well."

He added: "I expect we will feel those effects in due course. That's why we're getting on with our vaccination programme as fast as we can." Later, Health Minister Lord Bethell warned how the rising cases and issues with vaccines could affect travel to European countries going forward. He told the House of Lords: "I don't know how that will play out and it's certainly above my pay grade to speculate, but we are all aware that the possibility lies that will have to red list all of our European neighbours - but that would be done with huge regret."

On Monday, the UK reported 17 deaths over the last 24 hours of people who had tested positive for Covid-19 in the past 28 days. A further 5,342 cases were also confirmed, while another 367,006 people received their first vaccination - along with 52,612 who got their second jab. Meanwhile, the long-awaited results of the US trial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which involved more than 32,000 volunteers, show that the jab is safe and highly effective.

Several European leaders paused rollout of the vaccine amid concerns of a possible link with blood clots. UK and EU regulators said there was no evidence the vaccine causes blood clots. European leaders have faced criticism for the slow pace of the vaccine rollout on the continent. Less than 12% of the EU's population is reported to have received the vaccine, compared with nearly 40% in the UK - although the bloc has 446 million citizens, compared to almost 67 million in the UK.

The EU has encountered production problems with the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines. British-Swedish manufacturer AstraZeneca said the fact that EU contracts were signed later than with the UK caused problems with supplying their vaccine. Downing Street has previously said that it does not believe that vaccine supply issues will affect the current road map for easing lockdown restrictions.

from: BBC, on  March 23