Johnson Says Working on Plan to Quarantine Arrivals in U.K.

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The U.K. is “actively” working on a plan to quarantine arriving travelers in hotels to guard against coronavirus infections from overseas, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

“We want to make sure that we protect our population, protect this country against reinfection from abroad,” Johnson said, adding the U.K. must consider there’s “at least a theoretical risk” that a new variant of the disease could prove immune to the vaccines his government is rolling out. “That idea of looking at hotels is certainly one thing that we’re actively now working on.”

In a pooled broadcast interview Monday, the premier also warned that lifting lockdown rules too quickly risked triggering a new surge of infections in the U.K., amid growing pressure from members of his Conservative Party to lay out a time frame for reopening the economy.

Ministers have previously pledged to ease restrictions once the target to vaccinate almost 15 million people considered most vulnerable to the disease has been met, which Johnson said is still on track to happen by mid-February.

Death Toll

But with the U.K.’s overall death toll likely to surpass 100,000 this week and infections still high -- though falling -- there are growing indications the timetable for lifting lockdown is slipping, potentially even into summer.

That has alarmed prominent Tories including Mark Harper and Steve Baker, who have led demands for the government to set out plans for lifting the lockdown, and especially to reopen schools, and the criteria it will use for doing so.

“Once the vulnerable are protected, the first priority should be to start reopening schools,” Harper said on Twitter on Monday.

Johnson reiterated that his government’s priority to reopen schools as fast as possible, though he said any lifting of the lockdown must be done in a “responsible, cautious way.”

Infection Rate

“There’s nothing I want to do more than reopen schools,” he said. “We want to do that in a way that is consistent with fighting the epidemic and keeping the infection rate down.”

Johnson’s government sees vaccines as the U.K.’s ticket out of lockdown, and is considering tightening further tightening border controls to try to keep out any strains that might undermine the effectiveness of the doses being administered. Ministers are expected to make a decision this week on whether to quarantine arriving travelers in hotels, as countries including Australia and Singapore have done.

So far, the U.K. has given a first dose of the vaccine to more than 6.3 million people, leaving about 8.7 million elderly and vulnerable people to inoculate in the next three weeks to meet Johnson’s target.

The U.K. is using shots developed by Pfizer Inc. in conjunction with BioNTech SE, and by AstraZeneca Plc working with the University of Oxford. A third vaccine developed by Moderna Inc. has been approved, but first deliveries aren’t expected until the spring.

“AstraZeneca have committed to delivering 2 million doses a week to the U.K. and we’re not expecting any changes to that,” Johnson’s spokesman, Jamie Davies, told reporters when asked about the vaccine rollout. Work to Pfizer’s factory in Belgium means that “supplies will be lower this month and next” than previously expected, he said, but then ramp up so that total volume “will remain the same for January to March.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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