LONDON • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he is optimistic that some lockdown measures can soon be eased, as Britain reached its target of vaccinating 15 million of its most vulnerable citizens against the coronavirus.
The government has offered the shot to everyone aged at least 70, as well as the clinically vulnerable, front-line health and social care workers, and older adults in care homes. These groups account for about 88 per cent of Covid-19 deaths in Britain.
As at Saturday, the country had administered 15.1 million vaccine doses, Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker showed. Almost 22 per cent of the population have been given one dose, with fewer than 1 per cent getting two shots.
With infections and hospitalisations starting to fall, Mr Johnson is under pressure to set out when strict lockdown restrictions, which have caused the biggest crash in economic output in more than 300 years, will be eased.
“I’m optimistic, I won’t hide it from you, I’m optimistic, but we have to be cautious,” Mr Johnson, who will outline a route map out of the lockdown on Feb 22, told broadcasters on Saturday. He said reopening schools remained the priority, with the hope that students could return on March 8.
“Then working forwards to getting non-essential retail open as well, and then in due course as and when we can prudently and cautiously of course, we want to be opening hospitality as well.”
But Mr Johnson said the number of new Covid-19 cases remained very high, with more than 15,000 reported on Friday, as did the number of deaths, but “perhaps starting to come down quite fast”.
He also echoed Health Secretary Matt Hancock who had earlier said the country could live with the virus as it did with flu by the end of the year and make it a treatable disease. “I do think that in due time, it will become something that we simply live with; some people will be more vulnerable than others, that’s inevitable,” Mr Johnson said.
Separately, the Prime Minister also said on Saturday that Britain will use the first leaders’ meeting of its Group of Seven (G-7) presidency this week to seek more global cooperation on Covid-19 vaccine distribution and post-pandemic recovery plans.
Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab yesterday said he shared concerns about the level of access given to a World Health Organisation (WHO) Covid-19 fact-finding mission to China, echoing criticism from the United States. The White House on Saturday called on China to make available data from the earliest days of the outbreak, saying it had “deep concerns” about the way the findings of WHO’s report were communicated.
Asked about the US reaction, Mr Raab told the BBC: “We do share concerns that they get full cooperation and they get the answers they need, and so we’ll be pushing for it to have full access, get all the data it needs to be able to answer the questions that I think most people want to hear answered around the outbreak.”
In a separate BBC interview, a member of the WHO’s delegation to China, epidemiologist John Watson, said that while the Chinese authorities had not given them all raw data, they had seen a lot of information and discussed analysis of the first cases.