Johnson Faces Calls to Ease Curbs as Vaccines Milestone Hit

The U.K. recorded 15 million vaccinations against the coronavirus, a milestone that is set to increase pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to begin reopening the economy.

Johnson praised what he called an “extraordinary feat” and said that England had already met a target set earlier this year of immunizing the top four priority groups, including the over 70s, by Feb. 15. Wales also confirmed reaching the threshold. More than 25% of the adult population has now received at least one shot.

The U.K. has delivered one of the most successful immunization programs in the world, administering hundreds of thousands of vaccines each day. That’s a welcome political boost for Johnson, whose government has been slammed for its handling of the pandemic, which has claimed over 117,000 lives.

But it sets the stage for a battle with Conservative members of Parliament who want the prime minister to move faster to ease a third national lockdown that has closed schools and shuttered businesses still reeling from the deepest economic slump in more than 300 years.

In a letter to Johnson, a group of 63 MPs said there is “no justification” for not lifting all Covid restrictions by the end of April when the government hopes to have vaccinated everyone over the age of 50.

Travel Woes

Meanwhile for the travel industry, things are set to get tougher. Starting Monday, passengers arriving in the U.K. from coronavirus hot spots will be required to quarantine in government-managed hotel rooms for 10 days. The new rules apply to anyone who has visited any of 33 countries on a travel ban list in the previous 10 days.

In a series of broadcast interviews on Monday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock hailed progress in the vaccination program.

He told Times Radio that more than 90% of over 70s have been vaccinated, including more than 97% of 75 to 79-year-olds. Hancock later told the BBC about two-thirds of care workers have received doses, and about four-fifths of National Health Service staff.

Johnson Faces Calls to Ease Curbs as Vaccines Milestone Hit

The government plans to vaccinate another 17 million people by the end of April, covering 99% of those most at risk of dying from Covid-19, with all adults offered a first dose by the fall.

Urging Caution

But while infection rates -- among the highest in Europe -- are coming down, the prime minister has stressed the need for caution. Johnson wants schools to reopen on March 8. The government will then consider relaxing outdoor recreation, followed by non-essential retail and then hospitality, according to a government official.

The government plans to outline a plan for exiting the current restrictions on Feb. 22.

“We do need to be very careful in how we proceed,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Sky. “We have made good progress. We don’t want to see that unravel because we go too far.”

The U.K. reported 10,972 new cases on Sunday. That’s down from early January, when the U.K. posted a seven-day average of almost 60,000 confirmed cases a day. There were 258 new deaths. Total infections since the pandemic began now top 4 million.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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