Public Policy Dynamics UK #2
Health and Politics in the United Kingdom
|Total COVID-19 cases:||3,743,734|
|14-day total COVID-19 cases per 100,000:||725.4|
|Total COVID-19 deaths:||103,602|
- Britain’s businesses continue to struggle in the wake of the end of the Brexit Transition Period. While the financial services sector is losing business to other hubs overseas, goods exporters are facing increased costs and overburdensome bureaucracy. Frustrated by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s handling of Brexit and the Covid-19 death toll, Scotland’s ruling Scottish National Party has announced plans for a second independence referendum.
- England’s public health agency Public Health England (PHE) is to be replaced by a "more agile" National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP) responsible for dealing with external threats to health, such as pandemics, by April. The NIHP will be a core part of Britain’s global health priorities and action through its presidency of this year’s G7 summit.
- Britain’s passed the unwelcome milestone of 100,000 Covid-19 deaths on the 26 January, making the UK’s the country with the highest number of total fatalities in Europe. The UK’s recovery will be expedited by its vaccination effort, however – around 7,500,000 people have been administered an initial dose as of 29 January. All parts of the UK are expected to remain in lockdown until at least the middle of February.
- Once considered the core constituency of the Conservative Party, British business has been ill-prepared for the consequences of the UK’s departure from the EU. New York and Amsterdam have emerged as winners of the progressive shift of derivatives trading out of London following the failure to secure passporting rights for financial services or agree a comprehensive agreement securing equivalence between regulatory environments. Goods traders have also been hard hit – although goods can be traded without quotas and tariffs, agri-food exporters in Scotland in particular have struggled with additional export requirements. British ports have urged the Government to begin discussions with France to reduce Brexit-related bureaucracy as soon as possible.
- The future of the union looks increasingly uncertain as the SNP, emboldened by Brexit disruption and Johnson’s perceived mishandling of the Covid-19 crisis, has announced plans for a second independence referendum. Westminster said it will not allow a vote until the 2050s and the Scottish Conservatives intend on boycotting a second referendum. SNP President Michael Russell has however said a bill to hold a plebiscite will be introduced to the Scottish parliament if this May's election results in an SNP majority. Scots rejected independence in 2014 by 55 to 45 percent.
- The UK’s prospective recovery from Covid-19 has been hit by findings that 1.3 million foreign-born workers have left the UK over the past year. Unions and community groups report that workers left as some did not qualify for financial support through Covid-19, whilst others feared prolonged isolation from family and friends. The worst hit sectors are accommodation, food services and retail, where businesses fear that this could cause a labour shortage once a recovery begins, posing additional problems for the Government's post-Covid-19 "levelling-up" agenda for economic recovery. IMF forecasts published on the 26 January already project the UK's recovery would trail that of the Eurozone as a whole.
- Public Health England is set to be replaced by the spring by the new National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP) ahead of the UK’s presidency of the G7 summit this year. The slimmer NIHP, modelled on Germany's Robert Koch Institute (RKI), will focus on research and measures against public health threats such as pandemics, and take over NHS Test and Trace in its focus on epidemiology and pathogenic research. Public health actions such as obesity campaigns are set to be returned to the Department of Health and Social Care.
- The NIHP will play a central role in the UK’s health programme through the G7 in June. Matt Hancock’s first objective to achieve "health security for all", whereby the UK, working with WHO, plans to offer genomic capacity, resources and training to other countries to map mutations of Covid-19 and novel pathogenic threats. The health secretary complemented this by calling for more standardisation in clinical trials to facilitate cross-border research and speed up the approval process of critical medicines.
- Whilst the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic looms large, the health secretary also drew attention to the “silent pandemic” of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). He plans to use the G7 to push for better stewardship of existing antibiotics and reinvigorate the development of new ones. Looking into the future, Hancock stressed how the UK and the world stands to benefit from continuing advances in the field of AI within medicine. Given AI is only as good as the underlying data, Hancock stressed the development of health data interoperability standards is critical. Building on the work of the Global Digital Health Partnership, this would enable data to be shared and fed into AI applications quickly and seamlessly.
- The UK’s 100,000 Covid-19 fatalities stands in stark contrast to the beginning of the outbreak a year ago when Chief Scientific Advisor Patrick Vallance said considered a death toll of 20,000 to be a “good outcome”. As of late January 2021, Britain has the highest total death toll in Europe and the highest per-capita death toll after Belgium and Slovenia. The spread of the virus has levelled off, however, as the UK remains under lockdown.
- An easing of lockdown restrictions is not in sight in the near term. Prime Minister Johnson on 27 January announced England would not east restrictions for at least another three weeks. Schools will remain closed until at least 8 March. The devolved governments have announced similar measures. Scotland’s deputy First Minister John Swinney has said the country’s restrictions would remain in place until at least mid-February. The Welsh Government has similarly indicated it will not ease restrictions until the second half of February. Northern Ireland has gone further, extending its lockdown until 5 May 2021.
- Britain has become a leader in the race to vaccine the world. The country has vaccinated more people per 100 residents than any other country, except Israel and the UAE. By 29 January, around 7.4 million people had received their first dose of a vaccine, prompting optimism about the government reaching its goal of having administered 14 million vaccines by mid-February.
- Boris Johnson has emphasised that vaccines manufactured in the UK by AstraZeneca will not be diverted to EU Member States, following the well-publicised spat between AstraZeneca and the European Commission, in which several EU politicians called for some UK-manufactured doses to be diverted to the continent. Negotiations between the EC and AstraZeneca are ongoing, with the Commission seeking to avoid making the trade war threatened with the UK a reality. The UK is expected to approve the Janssen vaccine, which is being manufactured in the north of England and may thereafter allow some AstraZeneca doses to be diverted to the EU to accelerate its stuttering vaccination programme.