Britain on track to ease coronavirus lockdown measures in line with plan

A person takes part in a protest against Britain's coronavirus lockdown measures in London, March 20, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson was among those to get a jab on March 19, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (REUTERS, AFP) - Britain is on track to ease lockdown measures in line with its roadmap, health minister Matt Hancock said on Saturday (March 20) after announcing that half of all adults in the country had now had at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose.

"There is no sign that we won't be able to make progress as set out in the roadmap," Hancock told Sky News.

Asked about the threat of a third wave of infections in Europe and what that could mean for Britain, Hancock said the government would be vigilant in protecting the country.

Rising infections in Europe could derail Britain's plan to restart travel, which could possibly be from May 17.

The government is due to say more on April 12, and Hancock confirmed that the judgment on travel was one to make in a few weeks, not now.

"We'll look at the rates both here and abroad and the impact of new variants to understand whether its safe to make that move," he said.

Hancock earlier hailed the government's coronavirus vaccination programme as "a huge success" after announcing that half of the adult population had now received a jab.

In a video posted on Twitter, he said the biggest vaccine drive in the country's history, which began in early December, was "making massive strides" following a record number of inoculations on Friday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was among those to get a jab that day, receiving a first dose of AstraZeneca's vaccine at the same London hospital where he fought for his life almost a year ago after contracting Covid-19.

Britain has vaccinated nearly 27 million people, and administered on average more than 421,000 doses a day in the week to Monday, according to the latest health ministry statistics.

However, the state-run National Health Service (NHS) in England warned this week in a letter to local vaccination centres that doses will be "significantly constrained" from March 29 for four weeks.

The setback means the next phase of the inoculation campaign, covering people in their 40s, will have to be suspended until May, the letter said.

The government has insisted the change, caused by a supply shortfall from the Serum Institute of India, the world's biggest vaccine maker, would not derail its plan to ease Covid-19 lockdowns in the coming months.

Britain's successful vaccination campaign contrasts with Europe, which has struggled with its own roll-out and has been seeing a fresh surge in infections.

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People take part in a protest against Britain's coronavirus lockdown measures in London, March 20, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

The AstraZeneca jab was suspended in several EU countries this month, pending a review by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) following isolated cases of blood clots and brain haemorrhages.

The EMA restated its approval for the vaccine on Thursday, as did the WHO and Britain's own drugs regulator, leading some European countries to resume administering the vaccine.

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