Covid: England lockdown easing still on course, says PM

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People walk through St. James"s Park in London, Britain, 27 March 2021

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Boris Johnson has said the roadmap for easing England’s coronavirus lockdown is still on track, even as a third wave of infections hits Europe.

The PM said he will soon “be able to go to the barbers” and eventually “drink a pint… in the pub”.

Outdoor gatherings are allowed from Monday, with more restrictions due to be eased on 12 April.

Mr Johnson added that nothing in the data dissuaded him “from continuing along our roadmap to freedom”.

Speaking at the Conservatives’ virtual spring forum on Saturday, Mr Johnson said: “In just a few days’ time, I’m finally going to be able to go to the barbers.

“But more important than that, I’m going to be able to go down the street and cautiously, but irreversibly, I’m going to drink a pint of beer in the pub.

“And as things stand, I can see absolutely nothing in the data to dissuade me from continuing along our roadmap to freedom, unlocking our economy and getting back to the life we love.”

From Monday, people will be allowed to meet outside – including in private gardens – in groups of up to six, or as two households.

Shops, hairdressers, gyms and outdoor hospitality venues are due to reopen on 12 April.

Meanwhile, Wales has become the first UK nation to suspend travel restrictions within its borders, allowing families to meet for the first time in months.

Mr Johnson said it was as yet unclear what impact a rising wave of infections on the continent might have on the UK, with “bitter experience” showing it could take three weeks to show up here.

He added: “The question is – is it going to be, this time, as bad it has been in the past? Or have we sufficiently mitigated, muffled, blunted impact by the vaccine rollout?

“That’s a question we still don’t really know the answer to.”

Booster jabs

It came as Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said people aged over 70 could start receiving Covid booster jabs from September to protect them from new variants.

Mr Zahawi told the Daily Telegraph that deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam thought “that if we are going to see a requirement for a booster jab to protect the most vulnerable, [it] would be around September”.

Those first booster jabs would be given to those in the top four priority groups of the vaccine rollout.

Mr Zahawi also confirmed drive-thru vaccine sites are being considered to persuade younger people to take a Covid jab – as a scientist who advises the government said forcing pub-goers to provide a vaccine certificate might be “counterproductive”.

Prof Stephen Reicher, who advises the government, said the idea risked making vaccine hesitancy worse.

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Mr Zahawi also told the Telegraph that the government was hoping to have up to eight vaccines available by the autumn – with several made in the UK – including one that could guard against three different variants via a single jab.

The UK is currently using two vaccines – developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech – to protect people against Covid-19. A third – the Moderna vaccine – has been approved by the UK’s medicines watchdog.

All have been shown to be effective at preventing people from becoming seriously ill and dying from Covid.

The Oxford vaccine offers a good level of protection against the “Kent” variant now dominant in the UK. Early research on other vaccines, including Pfizer, suggest they also protect against this variant.

There are concerns vaccines may not work as well against variants first spotted in South Africa and Brazil, and some UK variants too, but they can be updated.

The government’s latest vaccination figures show that more than 29 million people in the UK have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, with more than three million of them having had a second dose.

Despite ministers warning that the UK’s vaccine supplies would fall in April, No 10 said all adults in the UK will still receive a first Covid jab by the end of July.

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