About 80,000 people in eight places in Surrey, London, Kent, Hertfordshire, Southport and Walsall were asked in door-to-door visits to take tests after the South African variant of coronavirus was found in these areas. Another mutation was found in the Kent variant. At the beginning of the week, Sunday 31 January, total UK deaths (within 28 days of testing positive for the coronavirus) had stood at 105,571, including 8,242 in the past week. Numbers in hospital fell. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was found to have a substantial effect on the spread of the virus. By Sunday 31 January, 8,977,329 first-dose vaccinations had been given, and 491,053 second doses. All elderly care-home residents were said by the government to have been offered a first vaccination. Captain Sir Tom Moore, aged 100, who raised £32 million for NHS charities last year, died in hospital after catching Covid. Police found about 200 people having a party at the Richmond Hotel, Liverpool. Pubs and restaurants on the Isle of Man reopened and social distancing was abandoned.
The European Union found it hard to deal with a shortfall of Covid vaccines. The European Commission invoked Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol to control any imports of Covid vaccines to Northern Ireland from Ireland. Ireland was not informed of the measure. The next day the EU revoked its move in the face of condemnation from Belfast, Dublin and Westminster (although the British government kept resolutely to an eirenic line, with Michael Gove, the cabinet office minister, calling it a ‘mistake’). Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, was widely seen, even among EU members, to have behaved foolishly in a moment of pressure. The root problem was that the EU, acting as a buyer for its members, had signed a contract in August with AstraZeneca for 300 million doses, but the company would be able to send only 31 million by the end of March. AstraZeneca had in May contracted with the UK to sell it 100 million doses, but said that it was happy to use its factory in Britain to supply the EU once that undertaking had been fulfilled. The European Union persevered in introducing controls requiring companies producing vaccine in the bloc to seek permission before supplying it beyond the EU. The EU’s European Medicines Agency approved the AstraZeneca vaccine only on 29 January. Muddying the waters, Germany’s vaccine authority refused to authorise its use on Germans aged over 65. Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, went as far as to say that the AstraZeneca vaccine was ‘quasi-ineffective on people older than 65, some say those 60 years or older’. ‘I’m not sure where he got that from,’ remarked Sir John Bell, the Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford.
The total in the world who had died with coronavirus reached 2,222,245 by the beginning of the week, an increase of 93,425 from the week before. France closed its borders to people from outside the EU, except for hauliers. The Australian city of Perth imposed a snap five-day lockdown after a security guard working at a quarantine hotel was found to have Covid, the first locally acquired case in Western Australia for ten months.
More than 4,000 people were arrested during protests in Russia against the imprisonment of the opposition leader Alexei Navalny. But he was sentenced to three-and-a-half years for breaking the conditions of a suspended sentence. The Russian oligarch Arkady Rotenberg, a one-time judo partner of President Vladimir Putin, said it was he, not Mr Putin, who owned a palatial house on the Black Sea; a video report about the house had been watched more than 100 million times.
There was a military coup in Burma and Aung San Suu Kyi (whose party won elections in November) was detained. Britain made visas available to 300,000 people in Hong Kong holding British National (Overseas) passports and their immediate dependents, allowing them to come to Britain; China said it would no longer recognise the BNO passport as a travel document. Britain applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade area of around 500 million people. Jeff Bezos is to step down as the chief executive of Amazon. Small investors sent up the price of a company called GameStop from the decline of which institutional investors had meant to profit through short-selling; the trading platform Robinhood came under financial pressure. CSH