Experts were holding talks with Boris Johnson on Friday afternoon amid fears that rising cases in Europe would inevitably leak into Britain. Scientists said there had already been three instances during the pandemic in which rising cases on the continent were followed by increases in the UK.
“I don’t think we should kid ourselves that you can stop these things from getting here,” said one well-placed source.
While Britain is on course to release restrictions on schedule as part of the Government’s roadmap, Paris was plunged into a new month-long lockdown this week after seeing tens of thousands of new infections each day.
Germany has also confirmed that it is experiencing a third wave , warning there is not enough vaccine to stop the growing numbers. Italy, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic are also seeing worrying increases.
“Clearly, looking across into Europe, numbers are very much going in the wrong direction in many places, and we should be very wary of that because in the past that’s led to numbers here a couple of weeks later,” warned one government scientist.
“It is the case that when we’ve seen increases across the Channel you then start to see increases a couple of weeks later, for whatever reason, and I don’t think we fully understand this.
“It does suggest we should be cautious, and although we’ve really come down quite steeply and things look pretty good in terms of hospitalisations and deaths, it would be wrong to assume we’re out of the woods.”
Asked whether the AstraZeneca blood clot row in Europe was fuelling anti-vaccine sentiment , the source added: “Clearly, the way in which this AstraZeneca effect has been dealt with will increase anxiety amongst people.
“It’s been done in a slightly odd way in taking a massive precautionary principle, which isn’t what regulators normally do – they normally look at risk benefit. I hope it hasn’t caused any lasting problem.”
Government scientists said numbers in Britain were “still heading in the right direction” and that although it was too early to see the impact of schools reopening , there were no “red flags”.
But they warned that it would be difficult to prevent cases coming from the continent even with strict border controls, because goods needed to come over as well as travellers, meaning preventing all contact would be impossible.
There are also concerns that some “pockets” of Europe are seeing large increases in more worrying Covid mutations such as the South African and Brazilian variants . Prof Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, warned on Friday that a “significant fraction” of cases were likely to be the South African variant, against which the AstraZeneca vaccine is feared to be less effective.
“You have to be careful about importation – we know how quickly they can get seeded,” added the government source. “We do have a lot of connectivity, across importation of goods and all sorts of other things as well. I don’t think it’s as simple as a whole load of people coming across from Europe.
“It’s a matter for ministers to take into action, but I don’t think we should kid ourselves that you can stop these things from getting in here. We’ve seen it three times now. We should not rest on our laurels and say ‘you know it’s ok, we’re quite low at the moment’, because we may not be and we may see an increase over the next few weeks. That’s what we need to look at very carefully.”
On Friday, Downing Street played down concerns that a third virus wave across Europe risks seeing cases reimported into the UK.
- India Covid carnage: Delhi crematorium has 42 ambulances waiting outside – Bodies stacked
- Coronavirus digest: Vaccinated Germans enjoy new freedoms
- Fed makes progress towards normalising policy
EU vaccines crisis 'has fuelled third Covid wave which could spread to UK' have 690 words, post on www.telegraph.co.uk at March 19, 2021. This is cached page on Europe Breaking News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.