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Boris Johnson 'talking rubbish' over claim UK will inevitably be hit by Europe's third wave

Ross McGuinness
·4-min read

Watch: Boris Johnson says the UK will 'feel effects' of a third wave

Boris Johnson’s claim that a third wave of coronavirus will inevitably spread from Europe to the UK has been attacked by a scientist.

On Monday, the prime minister said a surge in COVID-19 case rates in mainland Europe will lead to an increase in infections in the UK.

But Christina Pagel, a mathematician and professor of operational research at University College London, accused Johnson of “talking b******s”.

She tweeted: “It's cynical opportunism to blame any resurgence in England on the European wave. It is frankly absurd.”

Prof Pagel, a member of the Independent Sage group, added: “It is entirely on the government if we have another wave this summer – not the EU.”

She accused the prime minister of realising his roadmap out of lockdown will not be enough to prevent a third wave and of “preparing his scapegoat”.

On Monday, Johnson said: “On the continent right now, you can see sadly there is a third wave under way.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to BAE Systems at Warton Aerodrome in Lancashire, to mark the publication of the Integrated Review and the Defence White Paper. Picture date: Monday March 22, 2021.
Prime minister Boris Johnson has spoken about a third COVID wave in Europe landing in the UK. (PA)

"And people in this country should be under no illusions that previous experience has taught us that when a wave hits our friends, I'm afraid it washes up on our shores as well.

"I suspect we will feel those effects in due course, that's why we're getting on with our vaccination programme as fast as we can.”

But scientists have said the government must do more to prevent a third wave hitting the UK by tightening up borders.

Prof Pagel told the Daily Mirror: “You can’t have this idea that some countries are safe and some aren’t – that’s just not true.

“We need stronger border control. If we want to rely on vaccinations being our way out of this, we can’t afford to import new variants.”

This was echoed on Tuesday by Imperial College London epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson, whose modelling shaped the first lockdown.

He told Radio 4’s World At One programme: “Just because there’s a large epidemic in Europe does not inevitably mean we will have a large epidemic here.”

He added: “I certainly am in favour of relaxing border measures at a slower rate than we relax controls within the country and doing all we can to reduce the risk of importation of variants which might undermine our vaccination programme.

“Conservatively and being risk averse at the moment, I think we should be planning on summer holidays within the UK and not overseas.”

Under new COVID-19 legislation going before parliament on Thursday, people in England will face fines of £5,000 if they go abroad from next week without a good reason

Health secretary Matt Hancock said on Tuesday there are currently no plans to put all of Europe on the travel “red list”, which currently forces British nationals and people who are normally resident in the UK to quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days after arriving back into the country.

On Tuesday, England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty sounded a warning that another surge is inevitable. Speaking at a public health conference, Prof Whitty said: “There will definitely be another surge at some point, whether it’s before winter or in the next winter, we don’t know.

“Variants are going to cause problems, there will be stock-outs of vaccines and no doubt there will be multiple problems at a national level but also at a local level – school outbreaks, prison outbreaks, all the things that people are dealing with on a daily basis.”

A number of EU countries are currently experiencing a surge in cases. Although the sharpest rise has been in Eastern European states such as Hungary and Poland, Spain, Italy, France and Germany are also suffering.

Germany is extending its lockdown until April 18 and calling on citizens to stay at home over the Easter holidays to try to break the third wave.

While the president of the French hospital federation said they could face an "unprecedented violent shock" in about three weeks if the country fails to curb its vertiginous rise in cases.

It comes amid a dispute between the EU and UK over the supply of jabs to the continent with Commission president Ursula von der Leyen under pressure over the relatively slow pace of the vaccine rollout in the bloc. 

Watch: How England will leave lockdown