EU countries on Sunday embarked on a vaccination campaign hailed as the “key” to defeating Covid-19, as the growing spread of a new coronavirus variant intensified fears the pandemic could wreak further devastation.

The jab is a glimmer of hope for a continent still battling the pandemic in earnest, with infection rates again on the rise, lockdowns imposed and Christmas and New Year plans left in tatters for many.

The numbers vaccinated in the initial days with the Pfizer-BioNTech jab are largely symbolic and it will be months before enough are protected to envisage a return to normal from the pandemic that has killed 1.76 million people worldwide since emerging in China late last year.