Nadhim Zahawi has claimed the UK will be the first country in the world to beat the pandemic
Britain will be the first country in the world to beat the pandemic, Nadhim Zahawi claimed today — as experts insisted the UK will avoid a European-style wave of cases because it went ahead with ‘Freedom Day’.
Mr Zahawi, the former vaccines minister, said it was ‘absolutely the right thing’ to drop all restrictions in July and allow the virus to spread during the warmer months when the NHS was less busy.
He claimed the UK would be the first major economy to transition from pandemic to endemic because it frontloaded its Delta cases and is racing ahead of most of its EU neighbours in administering booster vaccines.
There is currently a fresh wave of the Delta variant rollling through the continent that has sent nations back into draconian restrictions and triggered a wave of violent protests.
The UK was slammed as the ‘sick man of Europe’ throughout the summer and autumn for consistently recording the highest levels of infection on the continent.
Mr Zahawi told LBC Radio: ‘Our four-step plan meant that we were able to open up the economy in the summer. Some said it was a mistake — I think it was absolutely the right thing to do.’
In a sign that boosters could be rolled out every year, he added: ‘We will probably, I hope, without being complacent, be the first major economy in the world to demonstrate how you transition (from) pandemic to endemic using vaccines.’
Austria became the first in Western Europe to impose a nationwide lockdown today and the Czech Republic and Slovakia have put the unvaccinated under stay-at-home orders. Germany is also considering making vaccines compulsory. Violent protests also broke out in the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and Northern Ireland over the weekend opposing curbs.
But Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious diseases expert at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline that the UK was in a different position to its neighbours because it had so many infections earlier in the year.
Sir John Bell, an Oxford University professor and Government adviser, echoed his comments, claiming that Freedom Day has ‘given us longer-term protection’.
He said he was confident that Christmas will be business as usual this year, telling Britons to ‘order that turkey, because it’ll all be fine.’
And SAGE adviser Professor Peter Openshaw said it was likely the UK would avoid the need for more Covid curbs. But he called for face masks to be re-imposed to bring down the infection rate.
Many experts, however, argue that the epidemic is becoming increasingly unpredictable and Britain’s daily Covid cases have been rising after children returned from half-term at the start of the month. But they say this is unlikely to lead to a major spike.
Britain was seen as the ‘sick man of Europe’ in the summer after its Covid infection rate outpaced other nations. But as the continent heads into winter many other European nations have seen their case rates storm ahead . The UK is testing up to 10 times more than its EU neighbours, which inflates its infection rate
But its booster drive has steamed ahead of others on the continent. More than 20 per cent of Brits have now got a booster, which is almost double the level in Austria and three times that in Germany
The above graph shows the proportion of people fully vaccinated against Covid, who have received two doses, in western Europe. It reveals that the UK has a similar jab uptake to many European nations
The above graph shows Covid hospital admissions per million people in Europe. It reveals that Belgium and the Netherlands are recording a rise, but that they remain flat in the UK. Austria is not included in this graph because no data was available
The above graph shows Covid deaths per million people from the virus. It reveals Austria and Belgium are starting to record surges
Experts also highlight that the UK’s booster drive is outpacing all its European neighbours who are starting to lock down again.
Some 20 per cent of Brits are triple-jabbed, double the number in Austria — which today went into a full lockdown — and three times that in Germany, where vaccines are to set to become compulsory.
German authorities have warned that everyone in the country will be either ‘vaccinated, cured or dead’ by the end of the winter.
For comparison, Boris Johnson said last week there was still nothing in the data to suggest the country needed to shift to Plan B which would bring back face masks, social distancing and work from home guidance.
What are the Covid restrictions in Europe?
Austria — Full lockdown
From today, Austria has entered a full lockdown.
Shops, restaurants and festive markets have all closed, with residents asked to work from home. Schools are also shuttered for almost all children.
The lockdown is set to last for 10 days, but there are already suggestions it could be extended.
All citizens are also required to get vaccinated against the virus.
Netherlands — Partial lockdown
Last week the country declared a partial lockdown to last until December.
It requires non-essential shops to shut at 6pm, and bars, restaurants and markets to close at 8pm.
People are also barred from attending sporting events, and told to work from home where possible.
It also has a ‘corona pass’ system which requires residents to show proof of vaccination.
From September, those visiting bars, restaurants and theatres have needed to give evidence they are double-jabbed. This month the scheme was expanded to include museums, gyms and outdoor terraces.
Work from home guidance was first re-imposed in July, with face mask requirements in indoor places brought back at the start of November.
Germany — Further restrictions
Unvaccinated people in some states are currently barred from public areas including cinemas, gyms and restaurants.
They must also work from home where possible and avoid public transport.
Bavaria and Saxony — which are seeing surging hospitalisations — have cancelled Christmas markets.
The Government is considering making vaccines compulsory.
Belgium — Further restrictions
From next week residents will be required to work from home four days a week.
The measure — which will last until December 12 when it is reduced to three days — has, however, sparked protests in the capital.
Face masks will also be required in all indoor public spaces, at outdoor events, and in restaurants when not seated.
But the Prime Minister Alexander De Croo has said the country is not heading towards ‘another lockdown’.
This is on top of a Covid pass, requiring people to be double-jabbed, recently tested positive for Covid or recently recovered from an infection to enter restaurants and fitness centres.
Slovakia — Lockdown for the unvaccinated
From today, people in the country who are not vaccinated can no longer enter restaurants, shops or attend sporting events.
Ministers have called it a ‘lockdown for the unvaccinated’ and hope it will boost jab uptake.
Czech Republic — Lockdown for the unvaccinated
From today, the Czech Republic has also introduced barriers for the unvaccinated.
Like Slovakia, it now requires proof of inoculation for entry to restaurants, shops and to attend sport events.
France — Some restrictions
The French Government currently requires face masks to be worn in indoor areas and on public transport.
It has also enforced a ‘pass sanitaire’ scheme requiring people to prove they are double-jabbed to access restaurants, theatres and fitness centres.
From December 15, it will require over-65s to also prove they have received a booster dose.
Italy — Some restrictions
The Italian Government is yet to announce further restrictions amid rising cases.
It currently requires face masks to be worn in cramped areas, and still has social distancing in place.
A ‘green pass’ — proof of vaccination — is also required to visit bars, restaurants, museums and gyms.
Over the weekend residents in Rome protested against this requirement.
Professor Hunter told MailOnline: ‘I don’t think we are going to be seeing the sort of surge in cases much of Europe is experiencing.
‘Largely that’s down to… quite a lot of cases throughout the summer and into October, more than most other countries.
‘There are a lot of people who would have been at risk who had the infection in the last few months who, if they get it again, they will have it quite mild.
‘Within Europe, we are [also] rolling out the booster faster than any others — although Austria is rapidly catching up with us.’
He added that there was ‘no sign’ the UK would face a bad flu season this year, but warned it could still make a come back in January.
But the scientist warned infections in children and the AY.4.2 subvariant of Delta could trigger an uptick in cases — but not a major spike.
‘There’s nothing I can see that would generate a potential surge this winter,’ he told MailOnline.
‘A reasonable proportion of younger children are not jabbed yet, but it might be enough to generate a surge.
‘The AY.4.2 variant [also] seems to be drifting up, although not that rapidly.’
The UK was viewed as the ‘sick man of Europe’ for months on end after its infection rate outpaced its continental neighbours.
Heading into Autumn Britain’s case load (458.5 cases per million people) was twice that of Austria’s, four times the rate in the Netherlands and Germany, and eight times that in Spain.
And its hospitalisations and deaths also steamed ahead with three times more daily admissions than Germany, and four times the number recorded in the Netherlands.
But Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium and Ireland now all have a higher infection rate than the UK, with Germany expected to also surge past in the coming days.
The spike just ahead of winter has sent many European countries rushing to impose ever tighter restrictions on daily life.
Austria today became the first to reimpose a full lockdown, which it said was needed because of low vaccine uptake. It has also made jabs compulsory.
Figures show the UK has a similar vaccine uptake to Austria and other European nations but is not recording rising cases.
This suggests immunity from its high number of cases this summer may be providing an extra layer of protection.
But the difference in fortunes may also be down to the booster drive, with the UK outpacing all its European neighbours in getting jabs to the most vulnerable groups.
From today over-40s are able to book their top up jab, which they can have from six months after their second dose. Uptake has surged above 70 per cent among the over-80s.
England still has next to no Covid restrictions in place, and the Prime Minister says there is still nothing to suggest Plan B is needed which would re-impose face masks, social distancing and work from home guidance.
On the other hand Scotland still requires face masks, work from home where possible, and vaccine passports for clubs, and large events.
Wales also still requires the coverings and has a vaccine passport in place for access to theatres, cinemas and concerts. And in Northern Ireland a vaccine passport is set to be brought in for clubs, pubs and restaurants from December 12.
Sir John urged Britons to prepare for Christmas, telling Times Radio: ‘My advice is, order that turkey, because it’ll all be fine. And if you’re planning a skiing holiday in Austria, things may not go so well.’
He said: ‘Back in the dark days of March, April, May 2020, everybody said, “Oh gosh, aren’t the Germans clever, they haven’t got any Covid and aren’t the Brits dumb because they’ve got lots of it?”
‘Actually I don’t think it has quite played out that way. One of the interesting things is that it may well be that the delay in lockdown in the UK, the pretty extensive level of disease, has given us longer-term protection.’
Sir John added that there may well be some truth in the fact that Britain running high levels of infection this summer may now be giving it an advantage compared to its European neighbours.
He continued: ‘They’ve been much more assidious about lockdowns, about keeping away from the virus and then they released.
‘They took their foot off the brake a month, six weeks ago, without a lot of testing in place to know what was going on. And you might argue that the exposure to the virus that we had in the first wave is now paying dividends because we’ve got a lot of people who’ve had natural infection.’
SAGE adviser Professor Peter Openshaw told BBC Breakfast he is pleased that the UK can currently avoid the measures being introduced in Europe.
AUSTRIA: The streets in Vienna are empty on Monday morning at the beginning of a nationwide lockdown
GERMANY: Traders dismantle figures from their stall at the closed Christmas market in Dresden, Germany, on Monday
Millions of Brits in their forties can book a booster Covid jab from TODAY
Millions more Britons became eligible for Covid vaccines today as the booster programme started accepting bookings for people in their forties.
An extra 8million people aged 40 to 49 who are double-vaccinated can secure an appointment for their third jab for six months after their second dose.
They can do so via the NHS booking service website, or by calling 119. Data shows the third dose tops-up protection against symptomatic Covid to above 90 per cent.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said vaccination was the best way for the UK to avoid being hit by a wave of infections rolling across Europe.
Teens aged 16 and 17 – who previously were only eligible for one dose – can also now book their second Covid vaccine.
Older teens will be given the second vaccine 12 weeks following their first jab because evidence suggests the longer gap reduces the risk of side effects.
Officials had delayed a decision on second doses while they investigated reports of heart inflammation in young people.
So far, more than half of 16 and 17-year-olds have come forward for a first dose of the jab.
It comes as countries across Europe are being forced to reimpose draconian lockdowns and other social restrictions in response to a fresh wave of the Delta variant.
Britain is thought to be benefitting from the fact it released all curbs much earlier than the rest of the continent over summer, which frontloaded infections.=
The New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) member said: ‘The situation appears to have really been destabilised in some parts of Europe because of misinformation, particularly about vaccines.
‘I think, in the UK, we had a very successful early vaccination campaign and we got very high vaccination rates, particularly amongst those who are vulnerable, but obviously that means that many people have now been vaccinated some time ago and they do need the boosters in order to raise their level of immunity back up again and make sure that, as we go into the winter season and towards Christmas, that we have very high levels of immunity again within society.’
He added: ‘I am concerned that we do have really quite high levels of transmission in the UK. My personal preference would be that we should really try to get these rates down — we know that masks do work… because there are people who are unvaccinated for various reasons, and we do need to try and reduce the level of circulation of the virus, as well as getting up vaccination rates.
‘No single measure by itself is going to be successful; we need the combination of measures, which includes re-vaccination, third doses, but also wearing masks and being very careful not to transmit the virus.’
England dropped virtually all Covid restrictions on ‘Freedom Day’ on July 19. Most restrictions have also been relaxed in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Professor Chris Whitty backed easing restrictions this summer, warning that sticking with curbs then would likely just delay hospitalisations and deaths rather than prevent them.
It comes as German health minister Jens Spahn warned citizens in the country will be ‘vaccinated, cured or dead’ from Covid in just a few months because of the Delta variant. He added: ‘This is why we urgently recommend vaccination.’
Politicians and health ministers in the country are now weighing up whether to follow Austria’s example and make jabs compulsory, with some saying the move is ‘unavoidable’ amid rising infections.
Austrians woke up this morning to a nationwide lockdown with shops, restaurants and festive markets shut amid a fourth wave of the pandemic which is crippling the country’s hospitals and tripling the death rate.
The Government’s decision to return to the strict restrictions and make Covid vaccinations compulsory for everyone from February next year sparked fierce backlash, with tens of thousands taking to the streets of Vienna at the weekend to protest against the measures.
The nationwide lockdown — which had initially applied to the unvaccinated — stops Austria’s 8.9million people from leaving their homes unless for specific reasons such as buying groceries, going to the doctor or exercising.
The strict measures, which are set to last for 10 days but could extend to 20, comes as average daily deaths in Austria have tripled in recent weeks and some hospitals have warned that their intensive care units are reaching capacity.
Anger is mounting across Europe over the anti-Covid measures, with violent protests erupting in Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Northern Ireland and Italy over the weekend. Last night saw 35,000 people descend on the Belgian capital Brussels to protest against new measures banning the unvaccinated from entering restaurants and bars.
The frustration is extending to as far as the Caribbean after France’s island Guadeloupe saw a week of violent protests following an announcement that coronavirus jabs would be mandatory for all healthcare workers.
In response, France has sent elite police and counter-terrorism officers to the French territory to help quell the unrest which saw clashes and looting.
It comes after the French government warned that the fifth wave of coronavirus infections are rising at ‘lightning speed’, with new daily Covid cases close to doubling over the past week.