End of lockdown? UK's Johnson mulls path out after 15 million vaccinated

by Reuters
Monday, 15 February 2021 10:14 GMT

A woman receives a dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine inside a bus modified into a mobile vaccination centre for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Thamesmead, London, Britain, February 14, 2021. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

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With nearly a quarter of the UK now inoculated with a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is under pressure to reopen the shuttered economy

* UK hits 15 million vaccination target

* UK PM Johnson to judge this week on lockdown exit

* UK looking at vaccine certificates to help Britons travel

* Hotel quarantine is going smoothly, minister says (Adds calls for lockdown to end)

By Guy Faulconbridge and Kate Holton

LONDON, Feb 15 (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will judge this week how fast England can exit COVID-19 lockdown after vaccinating 15 million of its most vulnerable people, but the health minister said death and hospital admission numbers were still too high.

With nearly a quarter of the United Kingdom's population now inoculated with a first dose of a COVID vaccine in a little over two months, Johnson is under pressure from some lawmakers and businesses to reopen the shuttered economy.

"We've got to watch the data," Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News. "Everybody wants to get out of this as quickly as we safely can, and both as quickly, but also as safely, are important.

"The question is a judgment of how quickly and safely, how quickly we can do that safely. That's the judgment that we're making this week, looking at the data, ahead of the prime minister setting out the roadmap, on the 22nd," he said.

The biggest and swiftest global vaccine rollout in history is seen as the best chance of exiting the COVID-19 pandemic which has killed 2.4 million people, tipped the global economy into its worst peacetime slump since the Great Depression and upended normal life for billions.

Britain has vaccinated 15.062 million people with a first dose and 537,715 with a second dose, the fastest rollout per capita of any large country. Hancock said he expected vaccine supplies to increase as manufacturing accelerated.

An influential group of lawmakers in Johnson's Conservative Party are calling for the end of lockdown as soon as the most vulnerable nine groups are vaccinated. They want no more rules beyond May 1.

"We're all filled with sorrow for the people we've lost, the harms that we've suffered but we don't honour those we've loved and lost by wrecking the rest of our lives," lawmaker Steve Baker said. "We've got to find a way to rebuild our society and our economy and our prospects, our livelihoods."

Hancock said the British government was speaking to other countries across the world about giving British people certificates showing they had been vaccinated so that they could travel abroad in the future to countries that require them.

"There is this international work going on because if other countries require (proof of vaccination) we want to allow Brits to be able to travel to those countries," Hancock said.

"We'd want to be able to facilitate that sort of vaccine certification, but it isn't anything we're planning to introduce here," he said, adding that a so-called vaccine passport was not something that would be required to access services in the UK.

The United Kingdom has the world's fifth-worst official death toll - currently 117,166 - after the United States, Brazil, Mexico and India.

A new COVID-19 hotel quarantine system for arrivals from 33 "red list" countries, intended to limit the spread of new variants of the virus, appeared to be working smoothly a few hours after it was introduced, Hancock said.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and Kate Holton; Editing by James Davey, Peter Graff and Nick Macfie)

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