Britain’s vaccine drive could be delayed by up to two months in the event of an EU export ban, according to reports.
This in turn could potentially affect the lifting of lockdown in England, with key dates like the end of all social distancing limits on June 21 pushed back.
More than 26 million people in the UK have had their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine so far, and of those 2.2m have been fully vaccinated.
Saturday saw the third consecutive day where the daily record for jabs was broken, with total of 844,285 inoculations given.
But Britain’s progress could now be halted and the timetable for the removal of restrictions hindered, according to the Guardian.
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The EU’s 27 member states are set to debate a ban on exporting vaccines – British-Swedish made AstraZeneca in particular – from the continent to countries with higher rates on Thursday.
If approved, this could mean a reported two-month delay, the newspaper said – potentially affecting Boris Johnson’s lockdown exit plan.
The Prime Minister has said he hopes all legal limits on social distancing will be lifted by the end of June, the final stage of his strategy.
The ‘rule of six’ is being reintroduced from March 29 before shops, hairdressers, gyms and outdoor hospitality reopens on April 12.
Two households might then be allowed to mix in homes from May 17, with the six-person rule also in place inside pubs.
But this is all dependent on several factors, including the successful vaccination of millions of Brits.
It has been said that the proposed export ban may not even speed up the EU’s vaccination programme that significantly, whose member states had administered 10.4 doses per 100 people as of Saturday.
In context, Britain had jabbed 42.7 people per 100 by the same date.
EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen has made repeated warnings about the lack of vaccines delivered to governments on the continent.
But the number of doses that would be kept within the bloc mean the full vaccination of every adult in the EU would be brought forward by “just over a week”, research by Airfinity suggests.
The data analytics company said Britain was on course to beat its target of delivering a first vaccine dose to every adult in the nation by the end of July by over six weeks until a fortnight ago.
The latest twist in the export saga comes as a top minister warned any move by the EU to stop the export of Covid-19 vaccines to Britain would be illegal and undermine the bloc’s reputation globally.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace called on the EU to back down from threats to block jabs leaving the continent.
Speaking on Sky’s Ridge on Sunday, he said: “The Commission know, deep down, the world is watching what happens.”
Mr Wallace said that both Britain and the EU made promises to observe contract law – and relied on the perception they were playing by the rules.
“This would be counterproductive to go down this route. It would damage the EU’s reputation globally,” he added.
The row comes in a week in which many EU countries have seen a sharp rise in infections, with parts of the continents plunged into lockdown again.
Britain smashed its daily record for administering coronavirus vaccines for a third consecutive day on Saturday.
A total of 844,285 combined first and second doses were given across the nation, up from 711,157 on Friday.
Mr Johnson thanked “everyone involved” in the rollout on Twitter on Sunday.
More than 27.6million people in Britain have now received at least one dose of the vaccine – more than half the adult population.
A slightly higher total of 873,784 was initially reported before figures from Scotland were revised down, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.
But he added: “Still our RECORD day in the vaccination programme.”
Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said “the equivalent of the entire adult populations of Liverpool, Southampton and Oxford combined” had been vaccinated on Saturday.