LONDON (AP) – United KingdomThe newly established quarantine hotels received their first guests on Monday as the government tries to prevent new variants of coronavirus from tracking its rapid vaccination drive.
Passengers arriving at London Heathrow Airport on Monday morning were escorted by security guards to buses that took them to nearby hotels.
The UK has given a first dose of coronavirus vaccine to almost a quarter of the population, but health officials are concerned that vaccines may not work as well on some new virus strains, including a first identified in South Africa.
Under the new rules, people arriving in England from 33 high-risk countries must stay at designated hotels for 10 days at their own expense with meals delivered to their door. In Scotland, the rule applies to arrivals from any country. International travel has already been severely hampered by the pandemic and the British are currently barred from taking overseas holidays.
Critics say quarantine hotels are being set up too late, with the South African variant already circulating in the UK
On Sunday, the government reached its goal of giving the first of two doses of vaccine to 15 million of Britain’s most vulnerable people, including health workers and people over the age of 70.
Visiting a vaccination center in London on Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised the “incredible efforts” of scientists, medics, pharmacists, members of the military and volunteers who had achieved Europe’s fastest vaccine rollout.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the vaccination drive is now being extended to people over the age of 65 and people with underlying health conditions. The government aims to give everyone over 50 a first shot of vaccine by the end of April and the entire adult population by September.
Britain has had Europe’s worst coronavirus outbreak with more than 117,000 deaths. Infections and deaths are now falling steadily, and the government says on February 22 it will announce a “road map” to ease a nationwide lockdown.
Johnson is under pressure from some members of his ruling Conservative party to soon lift the lockdown so businesses can reopen and people can visit friends and family.
The prime minister, who has been accused of being too slow to lock in Britain last spring and then too quick to ease restrictions in the summer, is now hitting a more target tone.
“We have to be very careful,” he said, adding that the steps announced next week would be “cautious but irreversible.”
Epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, who advises the government on respiratory viruses, said officials had a right to be careful.
“What we do not want to repeat is what has happened on previous occasions – namely, relax too quickly,” he told Good Morning Britain.
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