The government has good news to shout about this afternoon with ministers reaching their target of offering a first dose vaccine to the top four priority groups. In total, 15 million first injections have been offered to the most vulnerable in society. This is two days ahead of the government’s target.
Announcing the news, Boris Johnson said ‘we have reached a significant milestone in the United Kingdom’s national vaccination programme’. So far the programme has exceeded expectations with the UK one of the fastest countries in the world on vaccinations. This is down to a number of factors including a lot of work on manufacturing and supply chains which took place last year.
The focus now will turn to vaccinating the over-50s, with the over-65s the next group to be offered appointments. The official target is to offer all over-50s a vaccine by May – officials believe it can be done before then. However, during this period many of the over-70s will also be due their second vaccine dose.
The Prime Minister was keen to stress today that there is still ‘a long way to go to’. That sentiment is reflected in the various reports in the Sunday papers on Downing Street’s plan to ease the lockdown. The roadmap is a work in progress – it will be informed from data in the build-up – but the mood music coming from No. 10 is cautious. While ministers hope to open schools by March 8, non-essential retail and hospitality could reopen anytime between early May and August.
Should the Prime Minister attempt to push the reopening to late summer, he will face a sizeable backlash from Tory MPs. Already the Covid Recovery Group has published a letter – which they say is backed by 63 MPs – calling for all legislative restrictions to go by the end of April when all the government’s top nine priority groups should have been offered a vaccine. Were businesses not to be allowed to reopen until August, Johnson would face a large-scale Tory revolt.
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