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Britain set for tougher rules to combat spiraling virus cases

LONDON: A paramedic wheels a patient out of an ambulance outside the Emergency Department of St Thomas’ Hospital in London yesterday. The British prime minister said yesterday he was “reconciled” to the prospect of tougher restrictions to combat spiraling coronavirus cases. – AFP

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said yesterday he was “reconciled” to the prospect of tougher restrictions to combat spiraling coronavirus cases, as a row flared over whether schools should reopen. “It may be that we need to do things in the next few weeks that will be tougher in many parts of the country,” Johnson told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show. “I’m fully, fully reconciled to that.” Britain recorded 57,725 new cases on Saturday, its highest total of the entire pandemic.

Health officials are concerned that the surging numbers could overwhelm hospitals during their busiest time of the year. Johnson told parents of young children that they should “absolutely” send them to schools reopening after Christmas, despite the closure of some establishments in the worst-affected areas. “I understand people’s frustrations, I understand people’s anxieties but there is no doubt in my mind that schools are safe and that education is a priority.

“We’ve really fought very hard throughout this pandemic across the country to keep schools open,” he added. But National Association of Head Teachers leader Paul Whiteman called on the government to delay the reopening of schools after the Christmas break “so that we can agree the right mitigations… to make them COVID-secure.”

“We agree with everybody that school is the best place for children, we just want to do that well, we want to make it a sustainable return,” he told BBC Breakfast television. Johnson said that public health experts had highlighted the long term damage of children being kept out of school.

‘Tough period ahead’
“There are many factors you have to take into account, particularly depravation in left-behind communities,” he told Marr. “The issue is how can you stop schools being places the virus can circulate. Weekly lateral flow testing in schools I believe can make a huge difference.”

Johnson, who has been criticized for his handling of the pandemic that has taken more than 74,000 lives in Britain, revealed that 530,000 doses of the newly-approved AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine will be available for use from today. “We can see the way ahead in terms of a route forward, we can see how we can get out of this. But we do have a tough period ahead,” he warned.

Britain has already vaccinated around one million people after approving the Pfizer vaccine in early December. “We hope to be able to do tens of millions in the course of the next three months,” said the prime minister. Hungary is unlikely to use Russia’s coronavirus vaccine due to its limited production capacity, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said yesterday while criticizing the EU’s vaccine acquisition approach. Often at loggerheads with Brussels over democratic standards, Orban has sent experts to monitor vaccine development in Russia and China, and received samples of Moscow’s controversial Sputnik V jab.

“We know that the Russian vaccine is good, but there is not enough of it and probably will not be, as there are production capacity limits,” Orban said in an interview on Hungarian public radio. In comparison with Sputnik V “the Chinese (vaccine) is more promising, it seems that it will be available sooner and in greater quantities,” said Orban. “Ideally, you will be able to choose whether you want to vaccinate yourself with either a vaccine from the west or a Chinese vaccine,” he said. In November Budapest boasted that Hungary was the first European country to receive test samples of the Russian vaccine.

Western and Russian experts have raised concerns over the fast-tracked drug, which has not yet been approved for marketing inside the bloc by the EU’s European Medicines Agency (EMA). Critics have also described Sputnik V as a tool to bolster Russia’s geopolitical influence. Orban said Sunday however that he is “not happy with the pace” of vaccine acquisition from the EU.

“There were manufacturers whose products were available sooner in Canada, the UK, and in Israel than for example in the EU,” he said. “But that is Brussels’ job, they are dealing with it,” he added. “We are looking after the eastern relations contact network, as Brussels is not doing that.., that is why it is better to stand on two legs,” he said. Orban’s latest jibe toward Brussels comes after Hungary sidestepped the EU’s coordinated approach to vaccinations last week. After receiving its first delivery of the Belgian-made Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus jab December 26 it immediately started administering the vaccine, sidestepping the EU’s joint start that began a day later. – AFP

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