Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson poses with a vial of AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine during a visit to a coronavirus vaccination hub at the Health and Well-being Centre in Orpington, southeast London Photograph:( AFP )
Johnson has come under criticism for acting too quickly to relax measures and too slowly to re-impose them in recent months
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday said that he is planning a cautious but irreversible path out of the COVID-19 lockdown this week after the vaccination of 15 million vulnerable people.
Britain, with more than 117,000 deaths from Covid-19, is one of the worst-hit countries in the world by the pandemic. Johnson has come under criticism for acting too quickly to relax measures and too slowly to re-impose them in recent months.
Speaking at a health clinic in southeast London, Johnson said the government needed to be "very prudent" as it reviewed a third stay-at-home order in England that has shut down schools, non-essential businesses and hospitality venues since early January.
"If because of the rate of infection, we have to push off something a little bit to the right - delay it for a little bit - we won't hesitate to do that."
Johnson, due to set the path out of lockdown on February 22, said the rates of infection were still high and too many people were still dying.
Asked if he would ensure schools reopened on March 8, Johnson said he would do everything he could to ensure that.
If many people get infected, there would be a high risk of mutation in the virus and higher risk of it spreading to older and more vulnerable groups, he said.
Johnson called Britain hitting a target of inoculating 15 million of the most vulnerable people with a first coronavirus jab "a significant milestone", as the country prepared for the next phase of its vaccination programme.
However, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said there is "some way to go" before lockdown can be eased, stressing the government was awaiting key data on how successfully the vaccines reduce transmission.
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 is urging an end to the 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."
Britain is speaking to other countries about giving its citizens certificates showing they have been vaccinated so that they can travel abroad in the future to countries that require them, Johnson said.
"That's going to be very much in the mix, down the road I think that is going to happen," Johnson said, referring to such certificates. "What I don't think we will have in this country is, as it were, vaccination passports to allow you to go to the pub, or something like that."