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Virus winning in race to get jabs to at-risk groups as UK strain gains dominance

  • Fears public have had enough of restrictions

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Up to the middle of this week, 121,900 got a vaccine dose

Up to the middle of this week, 121,900 got a vaccine dose

Up to the middle of this week, 121,900 got a vaccine dose

There are two races under way during this Covid-19 crisis.

The first is between Covid-19 and the vaccine, and so far the virus is winning, with many more infections to injections.

The other is the race to keep one step ahead of the new, more infectious strains of the virus and slow down their arrival and spread here.

Outbreaks

Residential homes, including nursing homes, centres for people with a disability and mental health facilities are enduring a surge in infection similar to levels seen last March and April.

It is a measure of how the virus is bolting ahead of vaccinations for these most vulnerable groups.

The incidence is rising among the over-85s and the death toll this month is harrowing.

Vaccination speed

Up to the middle of this week, 121,900 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine had been administered. The aim was to give 43,700 doses to 267 long-term care facilities.

However, residents and staff who have the virus must wait. Residents of mental health and disability settings are to get a first dose by tomorrow.

Only 3,900 are still at the second dose stage, and there was a reduction in the delivery of 25,000 doses from Pfizer- BioNTech as it upgrades its Belgium plant.

Next week will see 47,000 get their second dose and become fully vaccinated.

A decision on approval of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine is also due on Friday, and this is where so many hopes here rest on the game changer.

However, the first shipment might not arrive until mid- February, and that will limit the scramble to get as older people in long-term care and frontline health workers protected before the UK strain gains even more dominance.

Crunch decisions

The more infectious South African strain of the virus was detected here but is believed to be contained.

It may be only a matter of time before it comes in through air or sea travellers.

The other big fear is the Brazilian strain, which is not believed to be here yet.

The R number, showing how fast the virus is spreading, is now between 0.5 and 0.8, which means the cases are shrinking.

However, new infections will take longer because the more infectious UK strain, now at 60pc of cases, is only getting more controlling. Add yet more of these more-transmissible strains into the mix and a whirlwind in spread could start again.

The current system of having to get a pre-flight test before travelling here is better than nothing, but the problem is that Covid-19 might not be detected due to the incubation period of the virus.

Travellers should quarantine for a number of days here and have a second test.

Apart from a penalty, the question is what action to take with passengers without a test result and whether quarantine should be mandatory.

In the UK, plans include forcing people to spend 10 days in quarantine in a hotel staffed by security guards.

Other options include electronic tags for travellers.

If the South African and Brazilian strains prove resistant to vaccines, the drug companies will have to reformulate, although we are told it would take only a few weeks.

Staying the course

The big fear among public health officials is that people will not be able to sustain these restrictions for much longer, and the fall in contacts for each infected person which now averages around two will be reversed as they move about more.


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