The UK’s booster programme has made the country “safer” than the rest of Europe, deputy prime minister Dominic Raab has said.
His comments come as administered booster jabs pass 15.5m, as the NHS braces for what is expected to be a tough winter.
“We are far more protected going into these cold months – and we say it with sorrow not any crowing at all – what’s happening on continental Europe,” he told BBC radio.
“As a result, not only are we safer in health terms but our economy is bouncing back stronger.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned earlier today that Europe could face another 500,000 deaths by spring.
“We’ve just surpassed, very sadly, the 1.5 million deaths mark last week,” WHO Europe executive director Robb Butler told Sky News.
“If we continue on the current course we are projecting a further 500,000 deaths by spring next year.”
Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary have all reported record highs in daily infections today, as the anticipated, tough, winter rings true and people socialise indoors in the run-up to Christmas.
With coronavirus infections spiking again across Europe despite nearly two years of restrictions, the health crisis is increasingly pitting citizen against citizen – the vaccinated against the unvaccinated.
Instead of a Christmas where family and friends can once again embrace festivities and one another, the continent is the global epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic as cases soar to record levels in many countries.
Governments desperate to shield overburdened healthcare systems are imposing rules that limit choices for the unvaccinated in the hope that doing so will drive up rates of vaccinations.
These decisions have led to riots and protests, with the situation in the Netherlands getting out of hand last weekend as fights broke out between the police and members of the public in Rotterdam and The Hague.
The world has had a history of mandatory vaccines in many nations for diseases such as smallpox and polio.
Yet despite a global Covid-19 death toll exceeding five million, despite overwhelming medical evidence that vaccines highly protect against death or serious illness from Covid-19 and slow the pandemic’s spread, opposition to vaccinations remains stubbornly strong among parts of the population.
Some 10,000 people, chanting “freedom, freedom”, gathered in Prague this week to protest against Czech government restrictions imposed on the unvaccinated.
“No single individual freedom is absolute,” countered Professor Paul De Grauwe, of the London School of Economics.
“The freedom not to be vaccinated needs to be limited to guarantee the freedom of others to enjoy good health,” he wrote for the liberal think tank Liberales.
That principle is now turning friends away from each other and splitting families across European nations.
Birgitte Schoenmakers, a general practitioner and professor at Leuven University, sees it on an almost daily basis.
“It has turned into a battle between the people,” she said.She sees political conflicts whipped up by people wilfully spreading conspiracy theories, but also intensely human stories.One of her patients has been locked out of the home of her parents because she dreads being vaccinated.
Prof Schoenmakers said that while authorities had long baulked at the idea of mandatory vaccinations, the highly infectious Delta variant is changing minds.