Boris Johnson has warned that a third wave of coronavirus currently spreading across Europe will “wash up on our shores”.
The daily death toll from Covid-19 fell to 17 today, the lowest in six months, just as the nation was warned a third wave of the virus may sweep in from the Continent.
PM Johnson said people should be “under no illusion” we will “feel the effects” of rising cases across the Channel, where vaccination rates are lagging far behind the UK’s.
Mr Johnson revealed he had talked to EU leaders and was “reassured” that they did not want to see a vaccines blockade that could delay jabs here.
He called for international co-operation, but insisted Britain was still on course to vaccinate the nine priority groups, including over-50s, by April 15.
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On a visit to BAE Systems in Preston, Lancs, he said: “We’re facing the same pandemic, we all have the same problems.
“A vaccination programme, developing vaccines, rolling them out, these are international projects and require international cooperation”.
The PM also said the Government would “bash on” with its roadmap for lifting restrictions despite concerns the vaccines row could lead to delays. He is under pressure from Tory backbenchers to lift restrictions sooner as cases continue to fall.
Government scientists have warned rushing out of lockdown risks another spike in infections, undermining the vaccine programme.
A further 5,342 new cases were recorded yesterday and more than 28 million people have now had a first jab and 2.3 million have had a second one.
But summer holidays could still be off until vaccination rates in other countries improve. And holiday plans may be derailed entirely by the soaring infection rates across Europe.
Home Secretary Priti Patel suggested France, which has high rates of the South African strain, could be put on the “red list” of banned countries.
Holidays abroad will officially be illegal after the Government tonight brought in new laws to enforce the rules already in place. Anybody who travels abroad without a reasonable excuse could face a £5,000 fine.
There is also a £200 fixed penalty notice for failing to fill in a travel declaration form, giving personal details and the reason for travel.
Ministers also formally banned different households meeting indoors for Easter, putting into law the policy of no indoor mixing until May 17.
No10 sources confirmed the PM held “private talks” with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel about the vaccines on Sunday. But the dispute over vaccine supply showed little sign of easing as European countries struggle to vaccinate their populations.
EU leaders will meet online on Thursday to discuss a possible ban on exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine to the UK.
Brussels chief Ursula von der Leyen ramped up rhetoric at the weekend warning of the power to “forbid” exports. She said: “That is the message to AstraZeneca.”
Her words reflected growing frustration that the EU is not getting the supplies it expected from the British-Swedish manufacturer.
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Brussels officials said they were not seeking a ban, but wanted pharmaceutical firms to meet their contractual obligations to the bloc. The row is now focused on the Halix plant in the Netherlands, which makes an active ingredient for the AstraZeneca jab.
But Whitehall sources played down claims that Britain could share its Dutch-made vaccine supplies to prevent the EU bringing in a ban.
They said to treat with “caution” reports that the Government was prepared to negotiate how to divide up stocks with European countries.
The plant has made enough for between five and 10 million vaccines.
Labour leader Keir Starmer said the Government was right when it said that the contracts had to be honoured and the EU was not “helping itself”. He said: “I don’t think they should go down this road of banning exports.”
Health Minister Helen Whatley also dismissed “rhetoric” over a ban. She said: “No country should follow vacccine nationalism.”
Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin said a ban would be a “retrograde step”.
British officials travelled to Brussels at the weekend for vaccine talks with the European Commission.
And Lord Eddie Lister is to travel to the Serum Institute in India to try to unblock the supply of five million vaccine doses from there.