South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe have been red-listed in the United Kingdom to prevent a new “Nu” variant of Covid from emerging. Returning travelers from these six countries will be quarantined for ten days, while onward flights from those countries will be banned. Stock markets around the world fell on the news.
This is a reminder of three forgotten truths. First, in most countries of the world, Covid-19 was much more deadly in 2021 than in 2020. The introduction of the vaccine in the UK has allowed us to avoid this, but as long as global vaccination levels remain uneven, the potential remains high for worrying new variants such as Nu, which has many more mutations than Delta and could therefore avoid vaccination. Third, as long as global vaccination levels remain uneven, global growth – and growth here in the UK – will continue to be contained. As long as scientists work to improve existing vaccines, the specter of further blockages will never be completely eradicated.
We have always known that ensuring equal access and equal distribution of Covid-19 vaccines is not only a moral imperative, but also in our economic and broader interests. Scientific innovation really means we will be improving existing vaccines to tackle new options, including Nu. But the failure of the rich world to ensure an equal supply of vaccines to others may have to strike again at the most advanced economies before that lesson can be learned and acted upon.