London: Boris Johnson clearly finds it awkward to deliver bad news. During these corona times typically the bad news about restrictions and loss of liberties is pre-empted and introduced either by Arlene Foster in Northern Ireland or by Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland—an unusual situation whereby England follows suit with the devolved nations; or by chosen ministers in the Cabinet who moot an intention before it is official. This week the Prime Minister had no option but to maladroitly announce that UK Covid-19 deaths had surpassed 100,000, an ignominious moment for the UK. Johnson appeared full of regret as he said he took “full responsibility for everything the government has done” to minimise loss of life and suffering during this very difficult stage. There are numerous speculations and accusations for this tragic figure but the government maintains it is too early for any conclusive analysis, although co-morbidities—28% of Britons are obese—are known to be a contributing factor.
Priti Patel and Matt Hancock have devised a scheme to quarantine everyone arriving from Portugal, UAE and 29 African and South American countries. Arrivals will be escorted to government provided hotels at their own expense and incarcerated for 10 days. It is thought Rishi Sunak was against the scheme when it included all countries, but was persuaded when the list was restricted; now folks are wondering how this plan tackles community spread when the virus is endemic in UK.
Johnson has said schools may be able to resume after 8 March but that does not mean the end of the lockdown for either vaccinated people or the others. The government has surreptitiously extended lockdown law powers to close public spaces until mid-July. With luck, all athletes and sportsmen/women in all disciplines will be given reprieve for training and events to resume before then. The athletic, hospitality and entertainment sectors are feeling the pain of lockdown emotionally and financially.
The vaccines seem to be the saving grace globally, with India winning the race on altruistic grounds, gifting Made-in-India vaccines to neighbours and supplying commercial vaccines to Indian Ocean countries, the Middle East, South Africa, Brazil and Mongolia, simultaneously as beginning a nationwide vaccine drive. Meanwhile, Matt Hancock boasts UK’s number of vaccines to date is about 10% of the population (7.5 million at the time of writing). But UK and EU are in a contretemps about vaccines, AstraZeneca are accused by EU of not honouring fulfilment of their Oxford vaccine, as yet not approved in EU, but as AZ CEO Pascal Soriot explains in a fascinating interview, “There are a lot of emotions on vaccines in EU. But it’s complicated”. The EU were three months behind the UK in placing their order with AZ. Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for Health, has adopted the usual EC belligerent and defensive attitude to the predicament and decreed that all producers of EU-made Covid vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) provide early notification of any exports to third countries, a veiled threat of holding back Pfizer BionTech orders to UK. Including the AZ order the EU have ordered a mixed portfolio of 2.3 billion doses and by summer 2021, Member States should have vaccinated 70% of the entire adult population. Although Hungary, tired of waiting for EC to deliver, has done its own thing and adopted the Russian Sputnik V vaccine.
Another vaccine candidate, Valneva has started commercial manufacturing of its Covid-19 VLA2001 inactivated vaccine in Scotland. Valneva initiated Phase 1/2 clinical study in December 2020 and if all goes well UK will receive 60 million doses in the second half of 2021. Johnson & Johnson anticipate announcing topline Phase 3 data for its single-dose Janssen Covid-19 vaccine candidate this week; however, they say as this trial is dependent on disease events, the timing is approximate. If the single-dose vaccine is shown to be safe and effective, J&J expects to submit an application for Emergency Use Authorization with the US Food and Drug Administration, with other regulatory applications around the world to be made subsequently. UK has ordered 30 million doses, the one-shot vaccine would noticeably accelerate the immunity in UK.
UK enjoyed a week of “firsts” with the US, with President Biden making his first call to a foreign leader to Boris Johnson. Readouts confirm they agreed on revitalising the UK and US’ long history of cooperation in security and defence, re-committing to the NATO alliance and shared values in promoting human rights and protecting democracy. climate change and COP26, containing Covid, the G7 summit, all provide possibilities for co-operation. President Biden discussed the need for coordination on shared foreign policy priorities, including China, Iran, and Russia. PM Johnson reiterated his intention to resolve existing trade issues as soon as possible.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken made one of his first calls to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. They covered similar issues and the need for multilateral engagement in meeting today’s global challenges.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made his first call to UK counterpart Ben Wallace: again the special relationship was emphasized. Secretary Austin congratulated UK on its largest increase in defence spending in 30 years (£24.1billion over 4 years), noting the importance of that spending to shared security and the collective security of the NATO Alliance. Secretary Austin also noted the deployment of the Carrier Strike Group 2021 and the importance of that spending to shared security and the collective security of the NATO Alliance. The secretaries discussed views on confronting strategic issues of mutual interest, including the Covid-19 response, concerns from a rising China, threats from Russia, and ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Since these telecom reports have surfaced, it appears that Britain may become some kind of an associate in an expanding Quadrilateral Alliance. Kurt Campbell, US Coordinator for Indo Pacific in the NSC has written on the importance of coalitions and that the Biden administration “might focus on military deterrence by expanding the so-called Quad currently composed of Australia, India, Japan, and the United States.”