LONDON (AFP, REUTERS) - Britain announced Sunday (Feb 28) that it has given more than 20 million people at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, with the rapid rollout providing hope in a country with Europe's highest death toll.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock made the announcement in a video on Twitter, saying: "I'm absolutely delighted that over 20 million people have now been vaccinated." In mid-February, the UK met a government target of 15 million of the most vulnerable people receiving first doses.
The government says it plans to offer a first jab to the whole adult population by the end of July.
Only Israel and the United Arab Emirates have vaccinated more people per head of population.
Smiling, Hancock said "I want to thank every single person who has come forward to get the jab," calling this "the route out of this for all of us." "There's a long way to go but we're making big strides," he said.
The Telegraph reported that vaccines for people over 40 will begin this month, adding that health officials are about to send the last batch of invites to those over 60.
The UK's vaccination programme has rolled out fast since its start in early December, when it became the first country in the world to begin mass inoculation with a fully trialed vaccine.
Earlier failures in contact tracing and controlling the spread of infection saw cases soar in the UK and the country's death toll of 122,705 is the highest in Europe.
The country is still under national lockdown but daily cases, hospitalisations and deaths have all fallen dramatically since late January, despite the emergence of a more infectious variant.
On Thursday, Britain lowered the country's virus alert level down one notch from the highest possible, saying the fall in cases had reduced the threat to the state-run National Health Service.
British finance minister Rishi Sunak will announce an extra 1.65 billion pounds (S$3.06 billion) to fund the country's fast vaccination rollout as part of his annual budget statement on Wednesday, the finance ministry said.
"Protecting ourselves against the virus means we will be able to lift restrictions, reopen our economy and focus our attention on creating jobs and stimulating growth," Mr Sunak said in a statement.