South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe have been placed on the United Kingdom’s red list, in a bid to prevent the new “Nu” variant of Covid. Returning travellers from those six countries will have to quarantine for ten days while further flights from these countries will be banned. Stock markets around the world have fallen on the news.
It’s a reminder of three neglected truths. The first is that in most of the world, Covid-19 has been far deadlier in 2021 than it was in 2020. The vaccine rollout in the UK has enabled us to escape that, but as long as global vaccination rates remain uneven, the potential remains high for worrying new variants such as Nu – which has many more mutations than Delta, and therefore may be able to escape the vaccine. Thirdly, as long as global vaccine rates remain uneven, global growth – and growth here in the UK – will continue to be constrained. The spectre of further lockdowns, while scientists work on improvements to existing vaccines, will never be fully eradicated.
We’ve always known that in addition to being a moral imperative, ensuring equal access and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines is in our economic and broader self-interest. Scientific innovation does mean that we will improve existing vaccines to combat new variants including Nu. But the failure of the rich world to ensure an equal supply of vaccines to the rest may well have to take a fresh toll upon the most advanced economies before that lesson is learned and acted upon.