In news that is sure to delight many, the British government is considering allowing some household mixing for a small number of days over Christmas. This news comes as results from the trial of the Oxford Vaccine suggest that it offers 70% protection. Coming on the tail of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine announcements, this is encouraging news.
The Prime Minister will unveil a tougher three-tiered system for England on Monday, which will be introduced at the end of the current English only lockdown on 2nd December. This new tiered system will see closing times for pubs pushed back to 11 pm, whilst gyms and non-essential retail are expected to be allowed to reopen in all areas under the new system. Cabinet Minister Michael Gove is due to speak with Scottish and Welsh ministers today as well to get their agreement on arrangements for Christmas, with that announcement expected to come on Tuesday.
One must wonder if the new decisions by the Prime Minister and devolved administrations is being influenced by the news of the Oxford vaccine. Whilst it may not offer the almost complete assurance of protection that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines claim to, it is far cheaper and easier to store and get to every corner of the world. Consequently, one can imagine that it will play a significant role in tackling the pandemic.
As if to highlight their confidence in the vaccine, the government has pre-ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine, which it is believed is enough to immunise 50 million people. At present there are roughly four million doses of the vaccine ready to go with another 96 million to be delivered. Though nothing can happen until the vaccine has been approved by regulators. Care home residents and staff are to be first in the queue for the vaccine followed by healthcare workers and over 80s.
Of course, despite the positive news from the vaccine and the government’s desire to get things going for Christmas, the country is still going to face limited social contact with those not from their household. Most areas in England are going to be placed in Tiers 2 or 3, meaning no indoor socializing with other households, something that may last until spring.
Furthermore, pubs and restaurants will only be allowed to serve booze alongside a substantial meal if they are in Tier 2 whilst in Tier 3, service will only be click and collect, with restaurants in Tier 3 only able to do takeaways, which some sources claim will ruin the industry.
Cinemas will remain closed in Tier 3, and it is believed hairdressers and beauty salons will also remain shut. Though this is not yet confirmed and likely won’t be known until later today.
All of this has not prompted sunshine and roses from members of the Covid Recovery Group that is filled with lockdown skeptic Tory MPs. Steve Baker, its deputy chair did a broadcast round this morning, where he called for the government to publish a cost-benefit analysis of the new tiered strategy. Whilst former minister Nus Ghani has said that it would be irresponsible to support any restrictions without the government showing that there is a fresh strategy for dealing with the virus. Ian Duncan Smith has slammed the new system by claiming it is lockdown in all but name. These MPs claim that they have roughly 70 Tory rebels prepared to vote against the new restrictions next week, but the assumption is that the restrictions will pass the Commons with support from Labour.
And whilst many can expect Labour to support the measures, the opposition has come out to call for the government to appoint a dedicated minister for the vaccine to oversee its rollout. Shadow Health Secretary John Ashworth argued that it would provide accountability and avoid mistakes being made similar to the PPE procurement and Test and Trace. Shadow Chancellor Annelise Dodds has also called for the government to highlight how the tiers are being decided and what support is going to be available for businesses.
The news about the Oxford vaccine is a positive development, but one can’t help but feel that until it is out in the public domain the government and the opposition are both going to be playing a cautious game. One must hope that Christmas goes ahead, otherwise the long slog may become unbearable for many.