3/3 © Reuters. Official figures are released for UK GDP 2/3
By William James LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed a “significant milestone” on Sunday, as data showed 15 million first doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered, fueling so-called the government to begin to relax the far-reaching blockade measures. . The vaccine program is seen as one of the few successes in the government‘s handling of a pandemic that has left the country with a higher death toll and worse economic damage than its peers. The total population of the United Kingdom is approximately 67 million. After becoming the first in the world to approve a vaccine, the British government set an ambitious date of February 15 to reach 15 million residents and staff of nursing homes, frontline health and care workers, all those over 70 and the clinically extremely vulnerable. Johnson said that all those groups had been reached in England, but that he did not speak for Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, and did not say that the overall goal had been met. In some areas, those in lower priority groups have been hit. “Today we have reached an important milestone,” he said. “No one rests on their laurels … We still have a long way to go and there will certainly be bumps along the way, but after all we have achieved, I know we can move forward with great confidence.” He will set more breakthroughs on Monday. The success of the vaccine program has prompted opponents of the extended closures to begin easing restrictions that force citizens to stay home, close nonessential stores and close schools. But Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said it was too early to discuss when the restrictions could be lifted. “We share all the ambition and desire to get out of this blockade, we want to do it in a responsible and safe way and therefore it must be based on the evidence,” he told Times Radio. Raab was responding to a letter from 63 lawmakers from the ruling Conservative Party demanding that all lockdown measures be lifted by the end of April. That’s the next target date for the government to have vaccinated the cohorts, roughly 32 million people, who have so far accounted for 99% of all deaths. “Once the nine priority groups have been protected by the end of April, there is no justification for the legislative restrictions to be maintained,” said the letter organized by the COVID Recovery Group. Johnson will lay out on February 22 the government’s plans to end the blockade. He has said he wants the schools to reopen on March 8.