PM Boris Johnson introduces new quarantine rules
- UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveils new quarantine rules for travellers
- Britain’s COVID death toll reaches a grim 100,000 milestone
- AstraZeneca developing a vaccine that targets new COVID strains
- Pound Sterling (GBP) higher against the Australian dollar (AUD), Canadian dollar (CAD) but struggling against risk-off currencies including Swiss franc (CHF)
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the UK government’s recent efforts against the coronavirus had not effectively reduced the R rate.
Although Mr Johnson said ministers would look to create a timetable for easing COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, he said that there is not currently enough data to determine when it would be safe to reopen the economy and resume social activity.
It comes after the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that the UK’s COVID death toll passed a grim milestone of 100,000 on Tuesday.
With the UK still facing a dire situation, the UK Prime Minister said the government had decided to tighten travel restrictions and increase quarantine control to protect the country against new COVID-19 strains.
So far, 30 countries, including South Africa, Portugal, Cape Verde and South Africa will be subjected to the new rules. Home Secretary, Priti Patel, will go into further detail on the new system later today.
British nationals and residents returning to the UK from any of these countries will be forced to self-isolate in designated quarantine hotels for ten days “without exception” said Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The new COVID-19 quarantine rules have been widely anticipated in recent weeks, albeit the government has been criticised for not imposing more stringent restrictions earlier.
Labour Party Leader, Sir Keir Starmer, is one of many people who have bashed Prime Minister Boris Johnson for the way he has handled the pandemic.
Sir Keir said the UK’s coronavirus death toll is “nothing short of a national tragedy” and a reflection of the vast “number of mistakes” this government has made.
He added that it was ignorant to say that this has resulted in the government balancing economic risks when the UK has suffered one of the steepest contractions of any other major economy.
Boris Johnson hit back at Sir Keir, stating, attacking the government at every opportunity will not resolve anything. He added that there will be “a time to reflect” but right now we must persevere against the virus to honour those who have had their lives taken by the coronavirus pandemic.
The UK’s rapid vaccine rollout appears to be offering some light at the end of the tunnel. More than 13% of the UK population, approximately 7 million people have received the AstraZeneca or Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, putting the country on track to achieve its target to vaccinate 15 million people by mid-February.
After speaking out on the vaccine row with the EU, AstraZeneca Chief Executive Pascal Soriot also insisted that inoculating all four of the UK’s priority groups by mid-February will be possible.
Mr Soriot boosted optimism further after stating that he expects the UK to have vaccinated 28 to 30 million people by March.
He also noted that AstraZeneca and Oxford University are developing a vaccine that specifically targets the South African variant, which would no doubt, allow the UK to breathe a sigh of relief if successfully manufactured.
UK medical chiefs confirm more cases of South African variant
An additional 10 cases of South Africa’s new COVID strain have been reported in Wales, all of which have been identified in people returning from travel abroad.
So far, 77 cases of the South African virus – which is believed to be more lethal than the original variant – have been reported in Britain.
While there is no concrete evidence as to whether vaccines will be ineffective against new COVID-19 strains, concerns have been raised about the immune response to new mutations.
The possibility that COVID-19 vaccines could be ineffective against new strains is one reason why the government has decided to “red list” countries and introduce new quarantine rules for returning nationals and residents.
Other countries, such as New Zealand and Australia, have already implemented maximalist border quarantine controls. While this would have negatively impacted the tourism industry of their relative economies, it appears to have effectively combated the virus as both countries have largely eliminated the transmission of COVID-19 within their nations.
While the UK is now following suit, there appears to be a row in parliament over how wide-ranging the new quarantine rules should be.
Some ministers have called for blanket quarantine controls, which would require all travellers arriving in Britain to self-isolate in government-designated quarantine hotels. In contrast, others are in favour of targeting high-risk countries.
The majority of the Labour Party is against the targeting approach, arguing that new COVID strains are emerging in various parts of the world. Recent evidence has also shown that symptoms associated with new mutations are different from the original strain, which increases the threat to public health.
Common symptoms of new COVID strains different from original
According to data collected by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the most common symptoms associated with new COVID mutations differ from the original virus.
The Kent strain, which is believed to have been in the US six-weeks before being flagged in Britain, is more likely to cause fatigue, sore throat and muscle pains than fever or loss of taste and smell.
Separate data collected from three studies have shown that new COVID strains are also between 29% and 91% more likely to cause a fatality in infected Brits.
While Britain’s rapid vaccine rollout supports the UK’s recovery outlook, the growing number of global virus cases and uncertainty over vaccine effectiveness is fuelling a return to caution and, in turn, risk assets are declining.
Pound Sterling trading higher against risk-sensitive currencies
Pound Sterling (GBP) rallied to new highs against the US dollar (USD) and the euro (EUR) earlier during the session but has slumped in tandem with a decline in global stocks amid renewed concerns over coronavirus developments.
However, the UK’s coronavirus vaccination programme appears to be limiting pound Sterling’s (GBP) potential for losses and instead, the Scandis, Australian dollar (AUD) and Canadian dollar (CAD) are bearing the brunt of the cautious mood.
At the time of writing, the British pound to Australian dollar (GBP/AUD) exchange rate has surged by 0.6% to AUD 1.7831, while the British pound to Canadian dollar (GBP/CAD) exchange rate is trading near 2021 highs at CAD 1.7513.
Should coronavirus developments darken the global economic outlook, investors may continue to shy away from the risk-sensitive Australian and Canadian dollar currencies, which would be positive for GBP/AUD and GBP/CAD pairs.
Pound Sterling (GBP) is currently holding steady against most of its risk-off counterparts including, the euro (EUR), Japanese yen (JPY) and Swiss Franc (CHF) but has plummeted against the US dollar (USD).
That being said, the US dollar (USD) could pare gains and retreat following the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting, scheduled for 19:00 GMT on Wednesday.