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Concerns rise for medical supplies and vaccines amid UK travel ban

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LaToya Harding
·3-min read
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An Israeli medical worker receives a Covid-19 vaccine jab at the Sheba Medical Center, the country's largest hospital, in Ramat Gan near the coastal city of Tel Aviv, on December 19, 2020. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP) (Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images)
An Israeli medical worker receives a Covid-19 vaccine jab at the Sheba Medical Center, the country's largest hospital, in Ramat Gan near the coastal city of Tel Aviv, on December 19, 2020. Photo: JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images

Countries all across the globe have banned flights from the UK due to a new COVID-19 strain, raising concerns about the effect it will have on medical supplies and vaccines.

More than 30 countries have already imposed travel bans on Britain, some for at least 48 hours while leaders come up with a plan for stemming the spread, some until the end of January.

Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium and Israel were among the first to stop travel from the UK, with France suspending all travel links, including freight lorries, for 48 hours from midnight on Sunday.

On the back of the news there has been rising concern about reduced food supplies, stockpiling and the supply of medical goods, adding to initial Brexit worries about medical supplies from the European Union (EU) if the UK fails to strike a trade deal.

READ MORE: UK flight ban: Airlines address cancellations, refunds, and rebooking fears

Currently all analogue and synthetic human insulin, for example, is imported from outside of the UK, with as many as 10,000 trucks crossing the Channel every day through the tunnel and via the port of Dover.

It was reported on Monday, however, that the supply of essential medicines including the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine would continue to come across the channel.

When asked about any impact on the vaccine rollout from the border issues, the PM’s official spokesman said: “We already have the majority of this year’s supply from Pfizer so we have sufficient doses to continue the vaccination programme, but we’ve always had contingency plans in place to ensure the Pfizer vaccine continues to enter the UK, as you would expect us to have.”

Transport secretary Grant Shapps also confirmed that the delivery of vaccine would not be disrupted by France temporarily closing its borders to the UK.

He said the supply chain was “pretty robust,” and that containers unaccompanied by hauliers were still permitted through the port of Dover.

“To put this into context, there are about 6,000 vehicles we would expect, just under in Dover today, probably 4,000 would have gone across from Dover, just under about 2,000 on the Eurotunnel,” he said.

“But there is probably something like 32,000 units that would have been the daily total, so the vast majority — including virtually all the vaccine — actually comes via container and there are good supplies in the meantime.”

READ MORE: UK stocks and pound tumble as Europe shuts borders

There are also contingency plans to use eight other ports that were put in place for critical medical supplies in the event of Brexit congestion.

When the health crisis was first declared a pandemic in March, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned of a global shortage and price gouging for medical supplies and equipment.

At the time, the price of surgical masks had increased sixfold, N95 respirators tripled and protective gowns cost twice as much as normal.

The UK may also face Christmas food shortages. One of Britain’s largest supermarkets also sounded the alarm that fresh fruit and vegetable shortages could happen within days.

Around 75% of dry cargo by value in the UK is handled by just seven ports, the largest being Southampton, Felixstowe and Dover, making it the UK's third largest port by value, a 2018 report on the UK port system by think tank Policy Exchange found.

Watch: UK travel bans: EU plan to allow British traffic due in 'coming hours'