Although the UK is steadily on course to reach its vaccination targets, breaking its own daily record for administering the jabs on 18 March, an anonymous government adviser has urged caution, warning that the country isn't "out of the woods" yet, reports Sky News.
The surge in COVID-19 cases in Europe, which is battling the third wave of the pandemic, is cause for concern, underscored the scientific counsellor:
"Across Europe, numbers are going in the wrong direction and we should be wary of that because in the past that has led to increased numbers here."
Warnings come as several regions in France, including Paris, gear up for a new month-long lockdown, the country's prime minister Jean Castex has announced.
Pointing to recent developments across the Channel, the adviser was quoted by the outlet as saying:
"The decrease in cases [in the UK] is slowing down and we are at a more fragile point than we were a few weeks ago. We are in a place that's a bit vulnerable."
Following the recent reopening of schools in the country, Britain has seen the R number - the reproductive rate of the virus – rise marginally throughout the past week. Accordingly, the cited source claimed he "wouldn't be surprised" if COVID-19 case numbers were to spike soon.
"We don't fully understand why we see cases going up here a couple of weeks after a rise across the Channel. It would be wrong to assume we are out of the woods. Things are still headed in the right direction overall. It's headed in the right direction, only slower," the scientist added.
Particular concerns were also raised in connection with the South African variant of COVID-19, with the government adviser suggesting that it was the one to "keep the closest eye on".
Meanwhile, the UK has broken its daily record for administered COVID-19 jabs.
Government figures showed that 660,276 doses were delivered nationwide on Thursday, including 528,260 first jabs and 132,016 second doses. The previous record had been set on 30 January, when a total of 609,010 vaccine doses were administered.
Currently in the UK, 26,263,732 people have now had a first dose and 2,011,070 have received a second dose.
The recent 24-hour period showed that 4,802 new cases of COVID-19 were reported across the UK.
Seeking to allay concerns after reports of possible delays in vaccine shipments, the government insisted it is on track to meet its jab targets, with all adults in the UK to have been inoculated by the end of July.
"We've always said in a vaccination programme of this pace and scale some interruptions in supply are inevitable and it is true that in the short-term we're receiving fewer vaccines than we had planned for a week ago. We will receive slightly fewer vaccines in April than in March, but that is still more than we received in February," said Prime Minister Boris Johnson at a Downing Street news briefing on Thursday, adding there would be no slowing down of the planned road map out of lockdown.
NEW: UK’s vaccine roll out will ramp up significantly this week. NHS letter to all GPs seen by FT says rest of March will be big, hitting 4-5m jabs a week.— Sebastian Payne (@SebastianEPayne) March 14, 2021
FT analysis suggests over 50s will have jabs by April 2.
Latest with @SarahNev and @jburnmurdochhttps://t.co/jxURA2bZwD pic.twitter.com/HL2K5SzBDi
"We remain on track to reclaim the things we love, to see our families and friends again, to return to our local pubs, our gyms and sports facilities and of course our shops," stated Johnson, who has been administered his first Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine dose.
Third Wave Fears
The cited concerns in the UK come against the backdrop of fears of an imminent third wave in Europe. In an effort to stave off the rising rate of infections, half of Italy's 20 regions are going into another lockdown, with schools and non-essential shops closing down.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn urged the population to observe coronavirus safety rules, as new infections in the country were rising at a "very clearly exponential rate".
"There are not yet enough vaccine doses in Europe to stop the third wave by vaccination alone. Even if the deliveries from EU orders come reliably, it will still take a few weeks until the risk groups are fully vaccinated,” Spahn said at a news conference on Friday, according to a translation by Deutsche Welle.
Chancellor Angela Merkel was scheduled to meet with the governors of Germany's 16 states on Monday to reportedly discuss whether to reinstate lockdown conditions.
Germany COVID update: New cases up 30% compared to last Thursday— BNO Newsroom (@BNODesk) March 18, 2021
- New cases: 17,879
- In hospital: 11,765 (+14)
- In ICU: 2,892 (+43)
- New deaths: 201
- Data: @risklayer
In France, where nearly 35,000 new cases were registered on Thursday, Paris and 15 other regions – close to a third of the population – entered another lockdown from Friday at midnight.
Prime Minister Jean Castex has announced that the restrictions will not be as strict as previous ones, with schools not closing this time.
Barbers, clothing stores and furniture shops will close, while bookstores and shops selling essential goods can remain open.
Rising cases are being blamed predominantly on the UK strain of the virus. The more virulent variant now accounts for about 75 percent of cases.
“The epidemic is getting worse. Our responsibility now is to not let it escape our control,” Castex told a news conference.
Castex sought to shore up confidence in the AstraZeneca vaccine, adding that France would resume inoculations with the jab.
“I am confident public trust in the vaccine will be restored,” he said, acknowledging he was prepared to receive the jab.
On Friday, Germany and other European countries resumed administering the AstraZeneca vaccine after the European Medicines Agency reiterated that the jab is "safe and effective" in fighting COVID-19.
There is no evidence linking the Oxford-AstraZeneca inoculation doses to an increased risk of blood clots, EU and UK regulators have ruled, after several European countries had earlier paused the roll-out of the jab.
In the UK, five cases of CSVT, cerebral sinus vein thrombosis (CSVT) in the brain, one of them fatal, were reported among 11 million people who received the shot.
EMA’s safety committee (PRAC) concludes that the benefits of the #COVID19Vaccine AstraZeneca still outweigh its risks despite possible link to rare blood clots associated with low levels of blood platelets.— EU Medicines Agency (@EMA_News) March 18, 2021
👉Read more: https://t.co/WCdaKqOPxB pic.twitter.com/0NO8kh5a48
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) concluded that CSVT can occur naturally and no link to the vaccine has been established, after carrying out a thorough review, with the stance echoed by the World Health Organization on Friday.
However, as a precaution, regulators will continue to monitor the situation.