England aims to ease lockdown measures by early March under vaccine plan
The UK government will aim to start lifting the pandemic lockdown in the first half of March, after stepping up its mass vaccination program this week.
Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said a gradual easing of restrictions could begin in the “first, second week of March.” He said it needed to be two to three weeks after the mid-February target to vaccinate the four most vulnerable groups so that the shots could take effect.
From Monday, millions more people will be offered the vaccine -- including over-70s and those deemed “clinically extremely vulnerable” -- which Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called a “significant milestone” in the immunization effort.
England is in its third national lockdown, with schools closed and people ordered to stay at home as the government attempts to control a surge in cases. There are currently more than 37,000 coronavirus patients hospitalized, and the daily death toll remains high -- with another 671 deaths recorded Sunday.
Johnson’s government is pinning its hopes on the vaccination program to end the crisis. The National Health Service will begin delivering injections to the two new groups this week because some areas of England have already vaccinated the top two priority groups: the over-80s and front-line health and care workers.
Ten new mass vaccination centers will open this week -- including at a racecourse, cathedral and rugby ground -- taking the total in England to 17, with more to follow. There are also 1,200 hospitals and GP-led sites offering injections.
Zahawi said there would be a “gradual lifting” of the “non-pharmaceutical interventions.” He told Times Radio: “You’re talking about the first, second week of March, where you should be seeing very clear evidence of a break in the correlation between infection rates and hospitalization and obviously death, because this is a race against death.”
The profound impact of 10 months of restrictions on businesses and workers means the government is under increasing pressure to do more to help the poorest families.
The UK’s main opposition Labour party will turn up the heat Monday by forcing a vote in the House of Commons on extending a boost in benefit payments -- worth more than 1,000 pounds ($1,355) a year -- beyond March 31. A group of Conservative lawmakers, the Northern Research Group, has also insisted ministers must extend the benefits uplift.
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