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Johnson warns Europe’s third wave of Covid-19 could crash on Britain’s shores

A quiet Shaftesbury Avenue with the Gielgud Theatre in London. Photo by Ian West/PA Media

By David Hughes, PA Political Editor

Boris Johnson warned the UK to be braced for another wave of coronavirus infections despite figures showing the lowest daily reported deaths for nearly six months.

The Prime Minister said a third wave of Covid-19 cases being seen in countries such as France and Italy could “wash up on our shores as well”.

He said it demonstrated the need to press ahead with the vaccination programme and stressed the importance of international co-operation as diplomatic efforts continued to defuse a row between the UK and European Union over vaccine supplies.

The latest Government figures showed a further 17 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Monday – the lowest daily reported figure since September 28 – taking the total by that measure to 126,172.

More than 30 million jabs had been administered up to March 21, including 27,997,976 first doses – a rise of 367,006 in 24 hours.

The Government also said that, as of 9am on Monday, there had been a further 5,342 lab-confirmed cases in the UK.

Mr Johnson has been engaged in intensive diplomacy with EU leaders, including calls with France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Angela Merkel on Sunday, in an effort to ward off a possible ban on vaccine exports from the bloc.

He said “we’re all facing the same pandemic, we all have the same problems”, adding: “If there is one thing that is worth stressing it’s that on the continent right now you can see sadly there is a third wave under way.

“People in this country should be under no illusions that previous experience has taught us that when a wave hits our friends, it washes up on our shores as well.

“I expect that we will feel those effects in due course.

“That’s why we’re getting on with our vaccination programme as fast as we can but a vaccination campaign and developing vaccines, rolling them out – these are international projects and they require international co-operation.”

His comments come after several regions in France, including Paris, spent their first weekend under a limited month-long lockdown.

Health minister Lord Bethell raised the prospect of all of Britain’s European neighbours being put on the UK’s travel “red list”.

The European Commission said talks were taking place with the UK about the vaccine dispute.

Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has been under pressure over the relatively slow pace of the vaccine rollout in the bloc.

Across the EU, just over 10% of adults have received a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine but in the UK the figure is over 53%.

Ms von der Leyen ramped up the rhetoric at the weekend, saying the EU had the power to “forbid” doses from leaving the bloc.

The threat reflects growing frustration on the continent that the EU is not getting the supplies it expected from the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, which is manufacturing the Oxford vaccine.

Reports have suggested the latest focus of the row is on the drug substance produced for AstraZeneca in the Halix plant in the Netherlands, with officials arguing it should be kept for the EU rather than allowed to be exported to the UK.

But only a limited number of doses have left the plant destined for the UK, which is mostly self-sufficient when it comes to the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

Commission spokesman Eric Mamer insisted Brussels was not set on “banning vaccine exports” but wanted pharmaceutical firms to meet their contractual obligations to the bloc.

EU leaders will meet on Thursday to consider their next move.

Mr Johnson said: “I’m reassured by talking to EU partners over the last few months that they don’t want to see blockades, I think that’s very important.”

Ireland’s Taoiseach Micheal Martin said an EU ban on vaccine exports would be a “very retrograde step”.

Despite the row, and a looming squeeze on available doses in April largely due to a delayed shipment from India, Downing Street told reporters it remained “confident” in the UK’s vaccine supplies and the Government was “on track” to offer a jab to all those aged over 50 by April 15 and all adults by July.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister faces a showdown this week with lockdown-sceptic Tories over proposals to extend emergency powers in the Coronavirus Act for a further six months, taking them beyond June 21 when the Government’s road map suggests restrictions in England could be scrapped.

The Government said the wide-ranging Coronavirus Act needs to be extended to support the furlough scheme, virtual court hearings and the extension of statutory sick pay, but 15 provisions which are no longer required will be either removed or suspended.

No 10 confirmed Mr Johnson will privately observe a minute’s silence on Tuesday “to all those who tragically lost their lives in the pandemic” as the country marks a year since the first lockdown.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said the threat of a third wave of cases arriving from Europe showed the need for a “comprehensive” hotel quarantine regime.

“The Prime Minister is being frankly complacent about the threat of a third wave of Covid from Europe on the UK,” he said. “It would not be inevitable if the Government had listened to Labour and taken tougher action to protect our borders.”

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