Over the course of the last weeks, the UK has discovered a new strain of coronavirus which has sent the British Isle to its knees. In under 72 hours, an increasing number of European countries locked their borders up to both tourists and residents in an attempt at blocking the spread of what has come to be denominated in Europe as the “British” variant.
Growing concerns regarding food and medical supplies being blocked at the ports of Dover and Calais are making Brits lose their cool. With cases rising once again, the blame being passed on like a hot potato, the vaccine and Brexit all at once, the first one to choke is a goner. Who will that be?
The “British” variant
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock first reported the existence of a variant of Coronavirus in the South East of England which seemed to be spreading the virus up to 70% more than the “original” infection we have been. The name “British” variant has come to be its appellative in mainland Europe for its highest presence being in the British Isle.
Despite the fact that viruses undergo thousands of mutations constantly, this one seems to be more aggressive than ever before: not so much for its impact on the mortality rate – which seems to be unaffected by the new variant – but more due to its increased infectiousness. Studies are looking at figures which would define the contagion rate to be up to 70% more transmissible, yet the research conducted so far seems to be apparent only on paper.
However, mainland Europe begins its hunt to find those who could have it before the outbreak worsens the numbers many European countries have been trying to keep under control with staggered waves of lockdowns and Tier systems. Generally, health systems in Europe have been urging travellers from the UK in the last fourteen days to self-isolate and report to their local health departments for higher-level PRC screening in the attempt to locate the presence of the new variant.
Europe seems to be running for cover with the Covid pandemic slipping out of hand more and more. Italy, the first and hardest hit between the EU members, is at its knees this winter unlike ever before: while the number of infected (currently 14,000 a day) might not be the ideal 300 from the summer in the wake of the first lockdown, the soaring deaths (600 a day) and the failing health system are the ones keeping the lockdown in place.
Nonetheless, as sad as it might sound, Europe’s silver lining resides in the fact that most “British” variant cases have been restricted mainly to the UK and only 6 other European countries. The latter seems to have had only a handful of cases swiftly being dealt with. One of the reasons for which the UK mutation has seemed to not spread in mainland Europe could be due to the immediate shutting down of 15 countries’ borders with the Isle.
Furthermore, Italian medics’ opinions seem to be split in half over the true contagiousness of the new strain of Coronavirus. The Imperial College study which predicted the 70% increase in infectiousness would seem to be strictly mathematical for the time being. It is still too early and contained to be able to gather enough evidence to properly theorise. As far as the few cases that the 6 European nations have had, the lack of data, paired with alarmism for a spike of cases big enough to deal the final blow to their crippling health systems, seem to enlarge the problem to more than what they can currently deal with.
Where is our food?
Before the Brexit trade deal was wrapped up, the British have had a taste of what it means not benefitting from free, unrestricted trade under Schengen – which could have been the case in a no-deal scenario. With the “British” variant scaring Europe to the point where borders were slammed shut for any and all movements from the UK, trade between the British and the French was also badly hit in the crossfire. Images of empty supermarkets and the prospect of pharmacies and hospitals drying up their supplies of medicinal cares has somewhat shocked the population.
Before President Macron’s phone call with PM Johnson, French truckers were forced to sleep in their lorries. Last Wednesday, the British forces came to an agreement with the French ones to begin mass testing of haulers crossing the Channel to avoid further spread of the new variant of Covid-19.
Now, almost a week after the Covid-induced hiccup, trade seems to be back to normal. The trade deal signed with Brussels is currently undergoing its last review, soon to be ratified and ready to be applied once the transition period ends on New Years. However, in light of the recent delays in Dover, one cannot help questioning whether these long queues and checks will become a normalcy. A one day stall might be acceptable, no major risks in sight, yet what if these prolong? Can Boris’s trade deal keep the UK indefinitely stocked and supplied?
The hot potato of politics
After years of quarrels, inter-party half-time reshuffling and doubts and lies, the Conservatives seem to have carried out on their end of the bargain with the latest EU-UK trade deal fated to be approved by the Commons by the end of today. However, an article by the Guardian reveals the agreement’s true colours. Albeit Johnson’s call for a Conservative three-line-whip, with Labour hot on their heels, not everyone seems to be in an equally merry mood with the deal negotiated.
The UK has been a key alley to the EU since the founding of the latter. Leaving without a deal has been a constant fear of both the government and the people – the number of Government-written white papers on the effects of total isolation from the Union during the transition period this year has been enough of a forewarn. Despite the warning calls, both factions have called out bluffs and scares of a no deal in the wry attempt of making the other bow down. However, the Christmas present Johnson offered the Brits this year culminated into the long-awaited deal everyone was holding their breaths on.
Because, as it is revealed by the Guardian’s article, of all the promises the Conservatives made the British people, little made the cut in this final draft. As it stands, the UK does not seem to benefit from this divorce any more favourably than what it did during its unhappy marriage. Tariff exemptions on products are very limited; no ERASMUS for students; threats to its freedom if the UK does not comply to the terms of the agreement…
The passing of the deal in the Commons seems final, yet few seem happy of it. The Guardian even predicted the Brexit deal embodying a new front for party propaganda and agenda in upcoming elections, where any legislature could potentially make the redrafting of the deal a staple of their foreign politics to garner votes.
Overall, the Commons is faced with a choice to make tonight, regardless of the infallibility of the passing of this amendment: it can be remembered as the legislation that gave something Brits what they called for in 2016 – albeit at a high price some would remark -, or go down in history as the government that would not settle for half.
Question is, is anything better than nothing? Or, best not to settle for half?