Europe has been hit by a deadly third wave – and experts fear Britain will follow suit (Picture: AFP/Rex/PA)
Fears are growing Britain will battle a deadly third wave of coronavirus as infections surge across Europe with no sign of slowing.
Covid-19 cases across the Continent could continue rising for ‘several months’, scientists have warned – as UK leaders are urged to be ‘careful’ before relaxing lockdown restrictions.
Half of Britain’s adult population has now received their first dose of the coronavirus jab with the programme hailed as a ‘huge success’ by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
But European leaders have been left scrambling to accelerate their rollout, following an ongoing dispute over shortages.
Twenty countries in the EU have reported an increase in positive tests, with 15 revealing a rise in hospital or intensive care admissions, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Less than 10 per cent of people in the bloc are said to have been given their first jab, with interruptions in supply blamed for delays in inoculating the vulnerable and elderly.
Now Britain is facing its own vaccine shortage with over 40s warned they could have to wait until May for their jab.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed Britain is facing a vaccine shortage (Picture: David Cliff/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Mr Hancock told the Commons this week: ‘In April, supply is tighter than this month and we have a huge number of second doses to deliver.
‘During April, around 12 million people, including many colleagues in this House will receive their second dose.
‘These second doses cannot be delayed as they have to be delivered within 12 weeks of the first dose.’
But he insisted: ‘There will be no weeks in April with no first doses.
‘There will be no cancelled appointments as a result of supply issues – second doses will go ahead as planned.’
How likely is a third wave of coronavirus in Britain?
Government sources have conceded the UK needs to be wary of what is happening in Europe ‘because in the past that has led to a rise here a few weeks later’.
A Whitehall official told the Times: ‘It’s a fact that when waves one and two hit Europe they hit us afterwards.’
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford, who believes a third wave is ‘very likely’ to happen in Wales, warned: ‘The question is not whether it will happen – it’s how it will happen and how we will deal with it.’
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And the UK’s national statistician, Sir Ian Diamond, head of the Office of National Statistics, went a step further, revealing how he has ‘no doubt’ a spike in cases would happen in the autumn.
Sir Ian told the Andrew Marr show how the public must recognise ‘this is a virus that isn’t going to go away’, adding how he had ‘no doubt that in the autumn there would be a further wave of infections.’
Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty believes society should be opened slowly and cautiously (Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images)
NHS Pharmacist Matthew Greening prepares a dose of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine – ruled to be ‘safe and effective’ despite blood clot fears Getty Images)
The warning echoes that of Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, who has called for society to be reopened slowly and cautiously.
‘We hope it (a third wave) doesn’t happen soon, it might for example happen later in the summer if we open up gradually or because of the seasonal effect it might happen over the next autumn and winter,’ Professor Whitty said.
‘All the modelling suggests there is going to be a further surge and that will find the people who either have not been vaccinated or where the vaccine has not worked.’
SAGE advisor Andrew Hayward, professor of infectious diseases at University College London, said it was ‘very worrying’ Europe was moving into a ‘third wave’ with ‘comparatively low vaccination levels’.
The rise in infections is in part due to the mutant B117 Kent strain – first detected in Britain in September before sweeping to 50 other countries – which could become the most dominant variant in the world.
Professor Hayward told Times Radio: ‘From what I understand, quite a lot of that is the emergence of the strain that came from the UK, the B117 strain, which is more transmissible, which is the same strain that’s still here now.
‘I think it just shows that the lockdown in the UK is necessary and we need to be careful as we release and to watch the figures because this shows the potential for cases to shoot up.’
A doctor administers the Oxford vaccine at a mass coronavirus vaccination drive-through clinic in Milan, Italy this week – where deaths have surpassed 104,000 (Picture: Piero Cruciatti/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned an ’emergency brake’ is necessary to stem coronavirus cases(Picture: AFP via Getty Images)
In Italy, more than 2million over 80s are still awaiting their first dose – despite promises to vaccinate the age group by the end of March.
One intensive care doctor slammed the delays, saying: ‘We should have already finished with this’, as infections increased for the seventh week consecutively, with the death toll now surpassing 104,000.
Meanwhile Germany warned of an ‘exponential rise in cases’ as Chancellor Angela Merkel said it would be necessary to apply an ‘emergency brake’ and reinstate lockdown rules.
German health minister Jens Spahn admitted Europe does not have enough vaccines to prevent a third wave.
‘We have to be honest about the situation – in Europe we don’t have enough vaccines to stop a third wave through vaccinations alone,’ he said.
Parisians packed inter-city trains leaving the capital yesterday hours ahead of a new lockdown (Picture: AFP via Getty Images)
France has plunged Paris and 15 other regions into lockdown until at least April 17, affecting 21million people, after 35,000 new cases were recorded on Thursday alone.
Professor Hayward warned a third wave of infection could last for ‘several months before they get back down to low levels’.
He added: ‘But unless there’s much travel between the countries it shouldn’t directly impact us.’
So what are the chances of going abroad this summer?
According to Boris Johnson’s lockdown roadmap, international travel will not be allowed until May 17 at the earliest.
But a leading scientist has warned overseas holidays will be ‘extremely unlikely’ due to the risk of Covid-19 variants being carried into the UK.
Government advisor Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Spi-M modelling group, believes new strains could jeopardise the vaccination programme in Britain.
Dr Tildesley, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think that international travel this summer is, for the average holiday maker, extremely unlikely.
‘I think we are running a real risk if we do start to have lots of people going overseas in July and August because of the potential for bringing more of these new variants back into the country.
‘What is really dangerous is if we jeopardise our vaccination campaign by having these variants where the vaccines don’t work as effectively spreading more rapidly.’
The warning comes despite previous hope for summer breaks in Turkey, where officials said they will welcome Brits even if they have not yet been vaccinated, as long as they can provide a negative coronavirus test.
The European Union also announced plans for a coronavirus vaccine passport scheme earlier this month, which could be available to non-EU countries including Britain.
The Government’s Global Travel Task Force is due unveil plans for overseas travel on April 12.
But Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has urged people to wait before booking a breaking, insisting minister could provide no ‘cast iron guarantees’.
Could Boris Johnson’s lockdown roadmap be pushed back?
Boris Johnson gives a thumbs up after receiving his first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine at St.Thomas’ Hospital in London yesterday (Picture: AP)
The Prime Minister said he wanted England’s exit from lockdown to be ‘cautious but irreversible’ when he laid out his roadmap.
He said the ‘intention’ is not to lock down the nation again – but stopped short of making any guarantee.
But Mr Johnson – who had his first dose of the Oxford jab yesterday – insisted vaccine supply issues would not delay the country lifting restrictions – assuring the public that ‘our progress along the road to freedom continues ‘unchecked’.
‘The supply we do have will still enable us to hit the targets we have set,’ he told a Downing Street press conference on Thursday.
‘That means that by April 15 we’ll be able to offer a first dose to all of you who are over 50 as well as those under 50 who are clinically vulnerable.
‘We will have the second doses that people need within the 12-week window which means around 12 million people in April.
‘And we will still offer a first dose to every adult by the end of July. So there is no change to the next steps of the roadmap.’
Matt Hancock also backed the Prime Minister adding vaccine supply would have ‘no impact on the roadmap.’
The Government’s coronavirus retention scheme is now due to end in September, three months after the June 21 target for all lockdown restrictions to end.
The Scottish government is also treading with caution, as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon revealed how she hopes to lift all restrictions in June – but declined to set a date because to do so would be ‘plucking it out of thin air’.
Wales plans to lift the ‘stay local’ rule and reopen tourism from the end of this month – ‘provided the virus remains under control’, Mr Drakeford warned.
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