Downing Street has insisted the road map to easing the lockdown remains “on course” despite Boris Johnson warning that Europe’s third wave of coronavirus infections could “wash up on our shores”.
No 10 stressed the importance of the “very extensive” vaccination programme on Tuesday, as the row continued with the EU over its threat to impose an export block on jabs.
A year after the first national lockdown was imposed to limit the spread of Covid-19, there were concerns of rising infections in France and Italy.
The Prime Minister highlighted the precariousness of the situation, saying that “experience has taught us that when a wave hits our friends, it washes up on our shores as well”.
Despite Mr Johnson warning that “I expect that we will feel those effects in due course”, his official spokesman said cases were already expected to rise as England’s third national lockdown is eased and said the plan to ease restrictions was on track.
“Obviously this time we have as a defence our very extensive vaccination programme,” the spokesman told a Westminster briefing.
“We remain on course for the individual steps in the road map. That hasn’t changed.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said there are currently no plans to put all of Europe on the travel “red list” after the prospect was raised on Monday by health minister Lord Bethell.
The red list currently forces British nationals and people who are normally resident in the UK to quarantine in a Government-approved hotel for 10 days.
Diplomatic efforts continued in a bid to ward off a possible ban on vaccine exports from the European Union amid a row over supplies.
Downing Street did not deny reports that AstraZeneca vaccines manufactured at the Halix facility in the Netherlands could be shared with the EU to prevent an export ban.
Former ambassador to the EU Sir Tim Barrow is believed to be among the advisers dispatched to Brussels to try to negotiate a solution.
Mr Johnson’s former chief of staff Lord Udny-Lister was in India, where a delay in a shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines has compounded a major shortfall in supplies.
No 10 said he was on a “long-planned visit” ahead of the Prime Minister’s own trip but did not deny the ally was holding talks over supplies, after suggestions the nation’s government had blocked exports.
Meanwhile, Professor Calum Semple, a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), warned a third wave elsewhere in Europe where the vaccine rollout is lagging could be a catalyst for new variants to emerge.
“The concern at present is that in countries where there’s less vaccination and a very strong third wave, that’s the perfect breeding ground for further variants of concern,” he told Sky News.
Fellow Government adviser, Professor Neil Ferguson, added to the BBC’s World at One: “I think we should be planning on summer holidays in the UK, not overseas.”