UK vaccines could end coronavirus lockdowns from February: Media

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) – Lockdowns in Britain could finish by the end of February once a group of up to 15 million vulnerable people have been vaccinated, the Mail on Sunday (Dec 27) reported, citing government sources.

The country’s health service would no longer be at risk of being overwhelmed by Covid-19 cases once that threshold is met, the newspaper said.

Britain became the first country in Western Europe to begin vaccinations when it started using the Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE shot on Dec 8. More than 600,000 people have been vaccinated through Dec 20.

The country has been one of the hardest hit in Europe with more than 70,000 deaths, the most in the region after Italy. Much of Britain has been moved into the harshest Tier 4 restrictions, which prohibit household mixing and forced the closing of pubs, restaurants and many businesses after the discovery earlier this month of a more contagious strain of the virus.

The vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca will be rolled out across Britain, starting Jan 4, the Sunday Telegraph reported, citing plans that ministers are drawing up. The government is hoping that two million people will get their first dose of one of the vaccines within two weeks of the roll-out of the AstraZeneca shot, the paper said.

The Sun newspaper reported that regulators will approve the vaccine as early as Monday. Responding to the report, a Health Department spokesman said by e-mail that the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency will need time to carry out a review of the vaccine data.

The Telegraph also reported that mass vaccination centres at sports stadiums and conference venues are expected to launch in the second week of January. The Oxford vaccine is easier to store and handle than the one from Pfizer, making it easier to reach people in secluded parts of the country.

The newspaper said that government officials are preparing to hold a crucial meeting on the pandemic on Monday after scientists warned that school closures may be necessary to slow the spread of the new Covid-19 variant.

The rate at which the virus is increasing, known as the R number, is estimated at 1.1 to 1.3 as at last Thursday, according to the latest government data. A reading above 1.0 indicates the spread of the virus is accelerating. Britain reported 34,693 more cases and 210 deaths on Saturday.

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