U.K.’s Johnson Urged to Accelerate Vaccines in Hotspots

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government faces growing demands to urgently accelerate the vaccine rollout in U.K. Covid-19 hotspots to prevent the virus getting out of control again.

Andy Burnham, the Labour mayor of Greater Manchester, has asked the government for permission to vaccinate all people over the age of 16 in Bolton, a town in northwest England that has seen a surge in cases among younger people in the last two weeks.

Conservative MP Mark Logan also asked Johnson directly in the House of Commons if he would consider it. “We’re looking at all the potential solutions for the surges we’re seeing in Bolton and elsewhere, including the one he describes, though that’s not top of the list at the moment,” Johnson replied.

Backing the demands would mean the U.K. deviates from its current vaccination strategy of moving down through the age bands. As of Thursday, all people aged 38 and over will be eligible for a vaccine shot under nationwide rules.

But calls are growing for all adults to now be vaccinated in certain districts to help tackle outbreaks, alongside the surge testing which is already being carried out.

Lockdown Easing

The emergence of hotspots runs counter to the broader trend in the U.K., which has seen a dramatic fall in Covid-19 infections across Britain in recent months and more than 35 million people have received at least one vaccine dose.

Johnson announced Monday that the next step of lockdown easing will go ahead from next week, with people allowed to meet indoors again at home and in pubs and restaurants.

Government scientists have raised fears, however, about the rise of a virus mutation first detected in India, which could be more transmissible than the so-called Kent variant that triggered a national lockdown in January.

Surge testing has already been rolled out in Bolton, which has one of the highest rates of the India variant.

Changing the Rules

Burnham said he wants the government to change vaccination rules so Greater Manchester -- which includes Bolton -- “could move more quickly beyond the age progression” set out by the government’s vaccine committee.

Other areas in England had already made similar requests, he told a press conference on Tuesday. “It might be able to mitigate the risks of spread in those communities where we’re seeing more transmission.”

Covid-19 cases in Bolton almost doubled in the seven days to May 6 compared with the week before, according to the latest data -- a rate of 134 cases per 100,000 people.

Burnham said the outbreak is mainly affecting younger people of working age, many of whom had not yet been vaccinated.

Surging Cases

Blackburn, just north of Bolton, has seen cases rise by two thirds in a week, logging 127 infections -- a rate of 85 per 100,000. The Derbyshire town of Erewash is currently England’s worst coronavirus hotspot, with a rate of 187 cases per 100,000 population after an outbreak at a school.

The Department of Health and Social Care said no decisions had been made on whether to change the way vaccines were rolled out. “The priority order is primarily based on age, which is the biggest factor determining mortality,” it said in an emailed statement.

Johnson’s spokesman, Max Blain, told reporters Wednesday the government is monitoring hotspots and the emergence of Covid variants “very closely.”

Earlier, Environment Secretary George Eustice signaled the government is unlikely to change course. “Once you start bringing in complications it gets more difficult to deliver,” he told Sky News.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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