Military planes to fly COVID-19 vaccines into UK to avoid Brexit-hit ports

LaToya Harding
Robyn Porteous, a vaccine trials' volunteer, is injected with a vaccine
Sources at the Department of Health and Social Care and the Ministry of Defence confirmed that large consignments would be brought in from 1 January by air if routes via road, rail and sea were subject to delays. Photo: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko TPX

COVID-19 vaccines manufactured in Belgium are to be flown into the UK by military aircraft in a bid to avoid delays at ports caused by Brexit, it has been reported.

Sources at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the Ministry of Defence confirmed to the Observer that large consignments would be brought in from 1 January by air if routes via road, rail and sea were subject to delays.

The newspaper said that civil servants from the MoD and military planning staff have met with officials from the government’s vaccine taskforce to discuss the contingency plans.

A DHSC source told the Observer: “We will do this if necessary. The plans have been discussed.”

The news comes as UK prime minister Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen have told Brexit negotiators to resume talks this morning, as the deadline approaches for London and Brussels to bridge significant differences ahead of the end of the transition period.

Talks were revived this weekend, having stalled on Friday over three of the most contentious issues for both sides — fisheries, ensuring fair competition guarantees and ways to solve future disputes.

Talks have been stuck in limbo for months, as neither side was ready to concede on these sticking points.

Following a telephone conversation on Saturday, Johnson and von der Leyen said that there were still grounds for hope that a deal will be struck in the next few days.

The pair said in a joint statement that they would resume talks on Monday evening.

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"In a phone call today on the on-going negotiations between the EU and the UK, we welcomed the fact that progress has been achieved in many areas,” von der Leyen said in a televised statement.

"Nevertheless, significant differences remain on three critical issues: level playing field, governance and fisheries. Both sides underlined that no agreement is feasible if these issues are not resolved.

"Whilst recognising the seriousness of these differences, we agreed that a further effort should be undertaken by our negotiating teams to assess whether they can be resolved.”

Since regulators approved the Pfizer (PFE) and BioNTech (BNTX) vaccine for use in the UK last week, 800,000 doses have already been imported via the Channel Tunnel.

Business secretary Alok Sharma said: “We are starting initially with 800,000 and then let’s see where we end up by the end of the year in terms of the numbers that we acquire. That will depend on the manufacturing.”

Britain’s vaccination programme is expected to begin on Tuesday, after the UK government became the first Western country to sign off the vaccine as safe for rollout.

Downing Street had said last month it expected to have 10 million doses by the end of the year.

The DHSC declined Yahoo Finance’s request to comment. The Ministry of Defence has also been reached for comment.

Watch: First batch of Covid-19 vaccine arrives in UK

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