Tens of millions of doses of the Covid-19 vaccine manufactured in Belgium will be flown to Britain by military aircraft to avoid delays at ports caused by Brexit, under contingency plans being developed by the government.
Both the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and senior sources at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed to the Observer on Saturday that large consignments would be brought in from 1 January by air if road, rail and sea routes were subject to widely expected delays after that date.
Civil servants from the MoD and military planning staff have recently met officials from the government’s vaccine taskforce to discuss the plans, with priority being given to speedy transfer of the doses. “We will do this if necessary. The plans have been discussed,” said a DHSC source.
The move shows that ministers are ready for severe disruptions at ports and commercial airports whether or not there is a Brexit deal, and are not prepared to allow the vaccine to be held up in any circumstances.
News of the preparations to fly in vials came as it was announced that Brexit negotiations would resume in Brussels on Sunday after Boris Johnson and the European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, agreed following a telephone conversation that there were still grounds for hope that a deal will be struck in the next few days.