Johnson: Risk of ‘Vaccine-Busting’ New Variants Prompting Tougher U.K. Border Control

LONDON (Reuters) -
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson loads doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine for mobile distribution at Barnet FC’s ground, The Hive, which is being used as a coronavirus vaccination center, in north London, Monday. (Stefan Rousseau/Pool via Reuters)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday he was looking at toughening the United Kingdom’s border controls because of the risk of “vaccine-busting” new variants of the coronavirus.

“We have to realize there is at least the theoretical risk of a new variant that is a vaccine-busting variant coming in – we’ve got to be able to keep that under control,” Johnson told reporters at a vaccination center.

“We want to make sure that we protect our population, protect this country against reinfection from abroad,” Johnson said. “We need a solution.”

He said the government was looking at the option of quarantine hotels but that the United Kingdom had one of the tightest regimes in the world.

“That idea of looking at hotels is certainly one thing that we are actively now working on,” he said.

Johnson said the United Kingdom was on target to reach its vaccination targets for vulnerable groups by Feb. 15.

Meanwhile, as the United Kingdom’s COVID-19 death toll approaches 100,000, grief-stricken relatives of the dead expressed anger at Johnson’s handling of the worst public health crisis in a century.

When the novel coronavirus, which first emerged in China in 2019, slid silently across the United Kingdom in March, Johnson initially said he was confident it could be sent packing in weeks.

But 97,939 deaths later, the United Kingdom has the world’s fifth worst official death toll – more than its civilian toll in World War II and twice the number killed in the 1940-41 Blitz bombing campaign, although the total population was lower then.

Some scientists and opposition politicians say Johnson acted too slowly to stop the spread of the virus and then bungled both the government’s strategy and execution of its response.

Johnson has resisted calls for an inquiry into the handling of the crisis and ministers say that while they have not got everything right, they were making decisions at speed and have among the best global vaccination programs.

The United Kingdom’s death toll – defined as those who die within 28 days of a positive test – rose to 97,939 on Jan. 24. The toll has risen by an average of over 1,000 per day for the past seven days.