As the second wave of COVID-19 hits the world, every country is fast developing measures to contain the spread of the disease. While the United States is banking on the newly approved vaccines to keep people safe, Europe is going back under keys.
The approval of the Pfizer BioNtech and Moderna vaccines offers hope of limiting the contagion of the pandemic, and a path to reopening of economies. Meanwhile, the surge in COVID-19 cases is presenting a challenge that is forcing governments to go back to the safety measures applied in the wake of the outbreak against the choice of keeping businesses running. And it comes at a time when Britain is confronting another challenge – Brexit.
The United Kingdom was the first country in Europe to administer the Pfizer vaccines, with millions of doses ordered to keep the economy from being shuttered once again. But the reality trumped the plan, forcing the government to choose lives over businesses.
On Monday, the discovery of a new strain of COVID-19, which spreads faster than others, was announced in the UK. England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty confirmed it in a statement yesterday.
“As a result of the rapid spread of the new variant, preliminary modeling data and rapidly rising incidences rates in the South East, the New emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) now consider that the new strain can spread more quickly,” Whitty said.
Following this discovery, the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced tier 4 lockdown that will be broadly equivalent to November lockdown. The restriction will affect parts of Southern Britain that includes London, and will cancel the Christmas for UK residents.
“It is with a heavy heart that I must tell you that we cannot proceed with Christmas as planned,” Johnson said.
On Sunday, the number of cases recorded in the UK surged to 35,928, resulting in 326 deaths. The rapid increase in the past seven days confirms the fears for a new strain and sends alarm across Europe. Italy, Germany, Netherlands etc. have announced flight restrictions and imposed lockdowns.
The UK is still reeling on the after effects of its recession, and the new phase of restriction is coming amidst Brexit negotiations that will have a serious impact on its economy. With less than two weeks before Britain says final goodbye to the EU, the global health crisis is stimulating a fresh situation that may stand between Britain and the EU bloc.
Both sides are on a race to safeguard almost a trillion dollars worth of trade from tariffs and quotas. Britain has been in a status quo transition period since it left Europe on January 31, and has till the end of the year to seal a deal.
The back and forth rhythm of the talks has been based on the EU’s demand for fishing right on British waters and creating a level playing ground and fair competition rules for both sides.
In October, the negotiation hung mainly on Britain’s attempt to renege on the Northern Ireland protocol, which includes keeping the border open between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which was part of the agreement reached between Johnson’s government and Brussels last year.
As both sides moved on, the issue of migration keeps creeping in now then. The EU bloc has had it hard reaching an agreement on bailout funds due to issues relating to coronavirus restrictions, as each member state has a peculiar plan that seems offensive to the other.
While it seems that both the EU and UK’s citizens’ concern now is centered on their quashed Christmas, the newly discovered COVID-19 strain may likely prompt another migration-based demand on the negotiation table that will affect everyone.
British health minister Matt Hancock said the EU has been making unreasonable demands hindering a deal.
“We want these talks to reach a positive conclusion, of course everybody wants a deal,” he told Sky News. “Unfortunately, the EU have put in some unreasonable demands … they do not respect the result of the referendum … I am sure a deal can be done but obviously it needs movement on the side EU.”
Britain’s economic future hangs squarely on its ability to negotiate a great Brexit deal and contain the spread of coronavirus.
Presently, vaccines are falling short of the answer; the speed of the inoculation does not match the contagious speed of the virus. London has been left reeling on the choice of lockdown it has never been a fan of, but Brexit poses economic threat that is proportionately as dangerous to the UK as the pandemic.