Britain’s vaccination rollout was hailed in lights yesterday as London’s 581ft BT Tower declared: “Half of all UK adults protected.”
The milestone of 26,853,407 jabs is a tribute to the work of the NHS and was hailed by PM Boris Johnson.
But on a day of mixed news, fresh doubt was thrown on the chances of trips abroad, a third wave is creeping across mainland Europe – and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen again threatened to block vaccines heading our way.
A record 711,516 jabs – either Pfizer or Oxford-AstraZeneca – were given to Brits on Friday.
The PM, among those vaccinated, said: “Like the rest of the country I am immensely proud of the progress we have made so far in rolling out vaccinations.
“There is still further to go and I encourage everyone to take up the offer when asked to do so.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the halfway mark is a “phenomenal achievement”.
He added: “It’s fantastic we have had a new record of jabs in a day. This milestone is thanks to a massive team effort.”
However, there was gloomy news over travel as scientific advisers fear Britain could face a longer lockdown if border controls are not tightened.
Under the current roadmap, Brits could potentially travel abroad from May 17. But Dr Mike Tildesley, of the government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, said there was a danger tourists could bring back variants which the vaccines may be less effective against.
He said: “International travel this summer is, for the average holidaymaker, sadly I think, extremely unlikely. I think we are running a real risk if we have lots of people going overseas in July, for instance, and August because of the potential for bringing more of these new variants back into the country.”
France has imposed a third lockdown affecting 21million citizens and Germany has seen “exponential” growth of the virus.
Some scientists want tighter border controls to stop the spread of mutant variants.
Meanwhile, a shipment to the UK of five million AstraZeneca doses from India has been delayed. Mr Johnson blames that and the need to retest 1.7million doses for an April slowdown in the rollout.
But he said the initial target to offer all adults a first dose by the end of July would still be met. Under-50s in the UK now face waiting until May for vaccination, while fewer than 2.2million people have so far had both required doses. Just a week ago, the Government had briefed journalists on a pledge to jab all over-40s by Easter.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth accused the Tories of over-promising. He said: “It was clearly nonsense. People just want the Government to be straight with them.
“Boris Johnson does not seem to be able to level with people. He exaggerates and doesn’t give straight answers. People want to know where they stand.”
His colleague Justin Madders added: “There has been tremendous effort put into the vaccine rollout so far and it is fantastic that over half the adult population has had their first dose.
“But we still have three-quarters of the job left to do. We need assurances that the Government is doing everything possible to ensure there will be no more unexpected disruption to supply.”
Munira Wilson, the Lib Dems’ health spokesperson, said: “There cannot be a third lockdown. That means the Government has to fix the systems in place.
“Effective testing and tracing and proper measures at our borders, combined with a supportive self-isolation system, are the way to end the pandemic here in the UK.”
In Brussels, a war of word rages on. In an interview published by German media yesterday, European Commission chief Ms von der Leyen threatened a blockade of vaccines manufactured in Europe if Anglo-Swedish company AstraZeneca does not first meet its supply obligations to EU countries.
The EU claims the company had delivered just 30% of 90million promised doses to the continent.
Ms Von de Leyen said: “We have the option of banning a planned export.
“That’s the message to AstraZeneca – fulfil your contract with Europe first before delivering to other countries. We didn’t get anything from the Brits while we are delivering vaccines to them.
“I can’t explain to European citizens why we export millions of doses to countries that are producing vaccines and aren’t sending us anything back.”
EU countries have been hampered by slow vaccine rollout – compounded by 13 countries suspending the AstraZeneca jab over fears it could be linked to blood clots.
Countries including Germany and Italy reversed their decision after the EU’s drug watchdog declared it safe.
But Denmark yesterday reported two hospital staff had suffered blood clots within 14 days of having the AstraZeneca vaccine – and one had died.
France lifted the suspension but is now refusing to give the vaccine to under-55s – a decision branded “crackers” by Prof Sir John Bell, a member of the UK government’s vaccine taskforce.
The number of UK Covid deaths recorded yesterday was 96, taking the total to 126,122. Some 5,587 new cases were recorded – up 53 week on week. And 6,162 people remain in hospital – but admissions fell by 23%.