U.K. Passes Vaccine Milestone; Half of Country Gets First Dose

The U.K. has given half of its population a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, a key milestone in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s efforts to revive an economy that was among the worst-hit in the early months of the pandemic.

The government has given first doses to 33.5 million people, health authorities said Saturday. That’s more more than half the Office for National Statistics’ most recent population estimate of 66.8 million. More than 12 million people have been given second doses.

Reaching the 50% point sets the U.K. apart from most its peers around the world -- it is the only G-20 economy to reach that milestone -- while keeping it on course to hit a July target of vaccinating all adults at least once. Only Israel has administered jabs to a greater proportion of its population. While the vaccine campaign has been a success, Britain has suffered the fifth-largest number of Covid-19 deaths in the world with more than 127,000 fatalities, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

The pace of the country’s vaccine rollout and a plunge in cases and hospitalizations led to an easing of restrictions. Shops this month were permitted to reopen after almost 100 days of lockdown, while restaurants were told they could serve customers -- but only outside. Job postings and the number of people returning to the office have since started to recover, giving a lift to an economy that fell into its worst recession in 300 years on pandemic fallout.

Though those adults still left to be vaccinated typically represent less than 1% of virus deaths, according to government calculations, they still pose a transmission risk, particularly as younger people are more likely to be asymptomatic.

That’s making the coming weeks pivotal for the country, as epidemiological and medical experts look for early signs of a resurgence in cases. The government has earmarked May 17 as the start of the second phase in the easing of lockdown, with international travel slated to restart that day.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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