With all the difficulties the Government has had managing the Coronavirus crisis, there was one saving grace for ministers: the vaccine roll out. Due to the might and brains behind the vaccine taskforce, the UK stormed ahead with inoculations.
This soon led to a bounce in the polls for Boris Johnson – and, furthermore, it became evidence that leaving the European Union had been a good idea, due to the sluggishness of the European Medicines Agency in rolling out vaccines.
That being said, two questions ConservativeHome has posed over the last few months is whether the vaccine rollout has given the UK an “advantage”, both economically and in terms of lives being saved.
Tied into the former is the question of whether the rollout allowed the UK to reopen faster than EU countries – to which the answer appears to be “not really”. For the sake of one article, let’s take a look at how the UK compares to France and Germany.
The first thing to say on this topic is that it’s hard to compare countries like-for-like, as has always been the case in the Coronavirus crisis. There are huge differences in the ways they have locked down and opened up, ranging from whether they kept schools open for longer than the UK, to the use of curfews, which France has been fairly keen on – but nonetheless, here are some comparisons.
Let’s take schools as the first measure of opening up differences. Schools in England reopened on March 8. In Germany, the majority of schools were reported to have reopened around February 23 – and in France they reopened on April 26 after a three-week closure (to control the country’s Coronavirus rates). In short, the UK didn’t exactly race ahead.
Next up, non-essential shops. In England and Wales they reopened on April 12, with Scotland and Northern Ireland following on April 26 and 30, respectively. In Germany, shops reopened around March 8. For France, it was slightly later – May 19. Again, there are no stark differences.
In some cases, France appeared more bullish than the UK in getting life back to normal. While the UK delayed its “big bang” reopening from June 21 to July 19, France ended its nationwide curfew 10 days ahead of schedule – on June 20. Restaurants, cafes and bars were then allowed to serve customers indoors, albeit at 50 per cent capacity and up to six people per table.
Perhaps one of the most striking differences is nightclub reopenings across countries. While the UK waited until July 19, French nightclubs reopened on July 9 and Germany’s reopened on the weekend of July 18.
France has had some fiddly rules around nightclubs. When they reopened, for example, they were only allowed to open at 75 per cent of their normal capacity – but it’s still further ahead than the UK, where nightclubs were closed.
Furthermore, France allowed concerts to resume on June 30, and as far back as June 25, Germany had reopened its restaurants, bars, beer gardens, museums, hotels and concert halls. It was around that time that the UK government delayed the final easing of lockdown – in what was called a “hammer blow” to entertainment.
Elsewhere in Europe, as of June 25, Greece reopened its bars, restaurants, museums and archeological sites – and started welcoming tourists; Spain’s bars, shops, restaurants and museums are open – with its nightclubs reopening in parts of the country with low infection rates; and Belgium had allowed cultural performances, shows and sports competitions to go ahead.
So, while this is not an exact science, you don’t get a sense that the UK reopened much faster than its European counterparts. It goes without saying that all reopenings – and inoculations – should be celebrated. But if there is no noticeable effect to having a quick vaccine programme, it rather undermines the “Brexit advantage” argument – or at least the Government using it effectively. Did Ministers capitalise on having one of the best unlocking toolkits? Only time will tell…