Coronavirus vaccine may never be found, warns UK PM Boris Johnson

PTI
London, London, UK (Great Britain) Published: May 12, 2020, 04.13 PM(IST)

Boris Johnson Photograph:( AFP )

Story highlights

In his foreword to the government's new 50-page guidance on a step by step easing of the lockdown measures in place to control the spread of the deadly virus, the UK prime minister lays out plans for businesses to gradually start reopening with "COVID-19 Secure" measures of social distancing and for the public to use "good solid British common sense" as the economy is unlocked.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned that a mass vaccine for the novel coronavirus may be over a year away and, in the worst-case scenario, may in fact never be found.

In his foreword to the government's new 50-page guidance on a step by step easing of the lockdown measures in place to control the spread of the deadly virus, the UK prime minister lays out plans for businesses to gradually start reopening with "COVID-19 Secure" measures of social distancing and for the public to use "good solid British common sense" as the economy is unlocked.

"A mass vaccine or treatment may be more than a year away," said Johnson, highlighting the work being done in the UK by scientists at Oxford University and Imperial College London towards this mission.

"Indeed, in a worst-case scenario, we may never find a vaccine. So our plan must countenance a situation where we are in this, together, for the long haul, even while doing all we can to avoid that outcome," he said.

Admitting that a vaccine or drug-based treatment is the only "feasible long-term solution", he said the UK has accelerated this with "promising" vaccine development programmes and a collaboration between Oxford University and pharma major AstraZeneca was a vital step that could help rapidly advance the manufacture of a COVID-19 vaccine when it is ready.

As part of global efforts, he flagged the 388 million pound in aid funding for research into vaccines, tests and treatment, including 250 million to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

"But while we hope for a breakthrough, hope is not a plan," he said, as he unveiled his plan for starting to lift lockdown restrictions from this week in phases.

Following a televised address to the nation on Sunday night and a statement in Parliament on Monday, the guidance comes into effect in public life across England from Wednesday when people will be allowed one-to-one contact with people other than those they live with, as long as they remain outside and two metres apart.

They are allowed to play sport with a friend or family member from outside their household or socialise with them in the open air for the first time in more than six weeks since the lockdown was imposed.

People are still advised to work from home where possible but start heading into work where necessary, in sectors such as construction and manufacturing, keeping the social distancing norms in place.

Under the step by step plan, by the start of next month non-essential shops will also reopen, with some hairdressers, pubs and cinemas to follow from July. However, as part of a COVID-19 Alert System, if infection rates are seen to be rising again, restrictions would be tightened "possibly at short notice".

Fines for breaching the new rules will also be increased to 100 pound and will double for each repeat offence, up to a maximum of 3,200 pound.

Johnson said: "I must ask the country to be patient with a continued disruption to our normal way of life, but to be relentless in pursuing our mission to build the systems we need. The worst possible outcome would be a return to the virus being out of control " with the cost to human life, and " through the inevitable re-imposition of severe restrictions " the cost to the economy. We must stay alert, control the virus, and in doing so, save lives.

"Then, as vaccines and treatment become available, we will move to another new phase, where we will learn to live with COVID-19 for the longer term without it dominating our lives."

The devolved administrations of Scotland and Wales are putting their own measures in place and keeping the "stay at home" message in place, rather than switch to the new "stay alert" message.

The UK government's latest messaging has come under attack from the Opposition and other sections of society over a feared lack of clarity for the general public.

China halts beef imports from four Australian firms as COVID-19 spat sours trade
China has suspended beef imports from four of Australia's largest meat processors, as the trade of several key agricultural commodities suffers in the wake of souring ties stemming from a dispute over the COVID-19 pandemic.

The suspension comes after Australia last month called for an independent inquiry into the origins of the novel coronavirus and just days after China proposed introducing an 80% tariff on Australian barley shipments.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham described the import suspension as "disappointing", but denied it was retribution by China over Australia's desire for a coronavirus inquiry.

China has rejected the need for an independent inquiry, and Beijing's ambassador to Australia, Cheng Jingye, in late April said Chinese consumers could shun Australian goods in response to Canberra's support for such an investigation.

Birmingham said Kilcoy Pastoral Company, JBS's Beef City and Dinmore plants, and the Northern Cooperative Meat Company have been banned from exporting beef to China due to issues with labelling and health certificates.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters that China's customs agency "continuously" found instances of the Australian companies having violated inspection and quarantine requirements and suspended the imports to "ensure the safety and health of Chinese consumers".

"(China's customs) notified the relevant Australian departments and required them to investigate completely the reason for the problem and to fix it," Zhao said during a daily briefing in Beijing.

He added that the suspension was unrelated to the bilateral dispute over COVID-19.
Labelling issues were also cited by Beijing when the same companies and two others lost their licences to ship beef to China in 2017 for several months.

"Thousands of jobs relate to these meat processing facilities. Many more farmers rely upon them in terms of selling cattle into those facilities," Birmingham told reporters in Canberra.
Australian Meat Industry Council Chief Executive Patrick Hutchinson said the companies made up approximately 20% of Australian beef exports to China.

Australian meat exporters were aware of Chinese labelling requirements, Hutchinson said.

"Sometimes their tolerance levels go up and down. This time we have a situation where the tolerance is quite low for this issue".

TRADE CONCERNS WEIGH

Worth more than A$3 billion ($1.94 billion), Chinese demand for Australian beef surged in 2019, fuelled by a growing middle class and as consumers switched to eating beef as pork availability fell during a swine fever outbreak which decimated Chinese hog herds.

China is by far Australia's largest trading partner, taking around 38% of all exports in 2019, and the growing spat weighed on the Australian dollar on Tuesday.

"First barley now beef," said Stephen Innes, Chief Global Market Strategist at AxiCorp. "The Aussie has been under pressure most of the day due to tariff issues with China."

Australia was China's third largest beef supplier in 2019, after Brazil and Argentina. China's beef imports surged in the first quarter of 2020, despite a sharp slowdown in demand as consumers stay away from restaurants following the coronavirus outbreak.

"The impact on China is very small," said a Chinese beef buyer with a state-owned trading firm. "There are a lot of other countries exporting to China. There are no products (from Australia) that cannot be replaced."

"There's too much beef around and prices are weak," said the importer.

JBS said in a statement it was working with Australian officials "to understand the technical issues that China has raised" and would take corrective action.

Kilcoy Pastoral Company, its owner China's New Hope Group, and Northern Cooperative did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

China has committed to increase its purchases of US agriculture including beef under a phase one trade agreement with the administration of President Donald Trump.

U.S growers of corn and sorghum could also benefit should Australian barley exports to China be hit by a big tariff. Barley, like corn and sorghum, is often used in animal feed in China.

Australia is China's top supplier of barley, sending it about A$1.5-A$2 billion of the grain each year. China takes more than half of Australia's barley exports.

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