Though the decision was widely welcomed, including by lobby group Airlines U.K., Johnson was also accused again of tardy decision-making.
“I think many people will say ‘Why on earth didn’t this happen before?’” said Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition Labour Party. “Many countries have taken this step before we did. Right step, but slow again.”
Whether the changes make much difference is another matter, as many countries have themselves banned travel from the U.K. following the discovery in England of another, more contagious variant of the virus that has been blamed for a sharp rise in infections and deaths. Scientists have said there is no indication the U.K. variant reacts any differently to coronavirus vaccines.
The U.K. is ramping up its mass vaccination program to the country’s oldest and most vulnerable residents. According to government figures, a little more than 3.2 million people, or around 5% of the population, have received a first dose of a two-shot vaccine.
Britain plans to give the first dose to around 15 million people, including those over 70, frontline healthcare workers and others who are particularly vulnerable to the virus, by the middle of February.
While the first stage of the vaccination program aims to protect around 85% of those deemed most likely to die from COVID-19, the country is expected to continue recording high mortality rates over coming weeks because of the lag time between infections and deaths. Johnson said there are currently over 37,000 COVID-related patients in hospitals across the U.K., which is around 15,000 more than in the first peak of the pandemic in April.