Johnson's plan to open UK economy gets boost from Covid-19 vaccine data

The success of Britain's vaccine programme is a key plank of the government's goal to fully remove restrictions by June 21. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Prime Minister Boris Johnson's plan to unlock the British economy appears on track after data showing Covid-19 vaccines are effective against a worrying variant boosted the government's confidence in its proposed road map.

The success of the nation's vaccine programme, which has now seen over 60 million jabs given out, is a key plank of the government's goal to fully remove restrictions by June 21.

There had been concerns that the emergence of the new variant, first identified in India, could blow that plan off course. Those fears increased last week as data showed the variant was spreading rapidly and had taken hold in 86 separate parts of Britain, including areas of north-west England and Scotland's biggest city.

Still, the report from Public Health England, showing two doses of the Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer and AstraZeneca were "highly effective" against the strain, appears to have soothed those nerves.

Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Services Agency, told the BBC that she thought the prospects for easing on June 21 were "looking good", providing people were careful.

And Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he is increasingly confident that the timetable can be achieved.

"This data shows the vaccine after two doses works just as effectively, and we all know that the vaccine is our way out of this," Mr Hancock said, according to Sky News.

On Sunday (May 23), Home Secretary Priti Patel was more circumspect, saying that while the data looked positive, it did not mean that it is "green light all the way".

A final decision on the June 21 date will be taken in the next few weeks when scientists and ministers have analysed data on cases and hospitalisations.

Mr Johnson will give the public an update in the coming days, and is likely to signal that the road map is on track, the Telegraph reported.

Criticism from former aide

One blight on the horizon for Mr Johnson is an appearance by Mr Dominic Cummings, his former chief aide, before lawmakers on Wednesday, where he is due to give evidence on the government's handling of the pandemic.

In a foretaste of the potential embarrassment that may cause, Mr Cummings, who has emerged as a vocal critic of the government since leaving his role late last year, unleashed a series of tweets over the weekend criticising Britain's response and claiming officials pursued a herd immunity strategy in the early days of the pandemic.

He said that letting enough citizens become infected in order to reach natural herd immunity was the "official plan in all docs/graphs/meetings" until early March last year, when it became clear that such a policy would lead to catastrophe.

When asked about the allegations in an interview on the BBC on Sunday, Ms Patel said that was "not at all" the plan.

Dr Harries also said it was not the nation's strategy.

Other developments

The government on Monday announced a new pilot plan to help those who have to self-isolate, including provisions for alternative accommodation and translation.

Figures showed around 72 per cent of British adults, the equivalent of around 37.9 million people, have received the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, and 43 per cent - around 22.6 million people - have got both doses.

Over 1.3 million Britons have registered to use the NHS App since the addition of vaccine status was announced on May 7.

The service allows users to easily show their proof of vaccine if required for international travel.

Still, data also showed the number of rapid Covid-19 tests being carried out in England fell to just over five million a week at the start of May, despite a government campaign calling on members of the public to test themselves twice weekly at home.

Ministers are stepping up discussions on when people can resume ordering drinks at the bar in pubs, according to the Telegraph.

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