New lockdowns were announced for England and Scotland Monday even as Britain began rolling out the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, a possible game-changer in fighting the disease worldwide, while EU nations were mired in finger-pointing over their own slow progress.
Following in the footsteps of the devolved Scottish administration, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said all of England, the UK’s largest nation, would close down from Wednesday — possibly into mid-February.
The latest virus moves are aimed at containing a severe wave of infections with a new coronavirus strain believed to spread faster.
“With most of the country already under extreme measures, it’s clear that we need to do more, together, to bring this new variant under control while our vaccines are rolled out,” Johnson said in a televised address.
Similar to a first March-June lockdown last year, the new moves include the closure of schools and a ban on leaving home for all but exercise and essential shopping.
As Britain handed out the initial shots in a first batch of 530,000 doses from the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) did not authorise a coronavirus jab from US-based Moderna despite bringing forward a special meeting, saying it would meet again Wednesday.
The EMA has already said the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab is unlikely to secure European approval in January.
Although the Pfizer-BioNTech inoculation is cleared for use in the EU, just 200,000 in Germany and a few hundred in France have received it — compared with more than a million in each of Britain, the US and Israel.
“It’s obvious that such a complex endeavour is always going to bring with it difficulties,” European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer told journalists.
In Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government is under fire for relying on a Brussels-led vaccination procurement scheme, her spokesman Steffen Seibert said that “it was clear from the beginning that supplies would be limited at the start,” blaming a lack of production capacity for the bottleneck.
Meanwhile in France, a suspect in their early 20s was taken into custody on suspicion of helping organise a New Year’s Eve rave for 2,500 people in eastern region Brittany that was broken up by police after two nights.