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Johnson Declares Milestone as U.K. Vaccinates 15 Million People

A visitor is vaccinated with the AstraZeneca Plc and the University of Oxford Covid-19 vaccine at the Royal Health & Wellbeing Centre in Oldham, U.K., on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021. Boris Johnson's government is pinning its hopes on a mass vaccination program to reduce hospitalizations and ultimately deaths, and aims to slowly lift restrictions from March to allow the economy to re-open. Photographer: Anthony Devlin/Bloomberg

Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed a “significant milestone” as the U.K. recorded 15 million vaccinations against the coronavirus, cementing a record for delivering one of the most successful immunization programs in the world.

By Charles Capel, Tim Ross and Andrew Atkinson

Word Count: 658
(Bloomberg) —The government earlier this year set a target of immunizing its top four priority groups — covering about 14.6 million people — by Feb. 15. These are people over the age of 70, those who live or work in care homes, health service workers and those most vulnerable to Covid-19. More than 25% of the adult population has now received at least one shot.

In a video message Sunday, Johnson said the target had already been met in England and Wales also confirmed reaching the threshold. It is not clear whether the goal has been achieved in other countries of the U.K. The four groups are estimated to account for about 88% of deaths from the disease.

Boris Johnson

@BorisJohnson

Today we have reached a significant milestone in the United Kingdom’s national vaccination programme.

This country has achieved an extraordinary feat – administering a total of 15 million jabs into the arms of some of the most vulnerable people in the country.

Sent via Twitter Media Studio.

View original tweet.

For Johnson, whose government has been slammed for its handling of the pandemic that has claimed over 117,000 lives, the achievement is a welcome political boost. But it increases pressure to end a third national lockdown that has shuttered businesses and closed schools to most, compounding the damage of the worst economic slump in more than 300 years.

The restrictions have helped slow infections, bringing the key R rate below the threshold of 1 when new cases can spread exponentially. Still, hospitals remain stretched after the emergence of the more infectious U.K. variant led to a surge in cases.

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In an interview with Face the Nation/CBS News on Sunday, Johnson said infections are coming “very considerably,” but insisted the government was right proceed “in a cautious way.” The aim, he said, is to reopen schools on March 8. The government is due to announce a road map out of restrictions on Feb. 22.

Senior members of Johnson’s own Conservative government have been calling on him to move faster to ease restrictions and avert a wave of unemployment. Yet with infection levels still among the highest in Europe, Johnson and his scientific advisers have explained they will need to stay cautious, with curbs remaining in place potentially for months to come.

A group of 63 Conservative MPs sent Johnson a letter calling for an easing of lockdowns, saying their was “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.

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

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Britain was the first western country to start rolling out vaccines and the first to extend the delay between first and second doses to 12 weeks in an effort to give as many people as possible at least some protection from the virus. The approach provoked skepticism initially but has since been endorsed by the World Health Organization.

The government plans to to vaccinate another 17 million people by the end of April, covering 99% of those most at risk of dying from Covid-19, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told BBC TV’s “Andrew Marr Show” Sunday. All adults should be offered a first dose by the autumn, he said.

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

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.
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