British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday that the rapid drop in Covid-19 deaths was largely down to a three-month lockdown, not the country’s vaccination programme.
He warned that cases would rise once again as restrictions ease, Reuters is reporting.
The UK launched its inoculation drive in December and has already offered a first shot to all over-50s, the clinically vulnerable and health workers. The country is behind only Israel in the proportion of its population to have received at least one dose.
That rollout was however followed a month later by a third lockdown in early January to tackle surging infections driven by the “Kent” variant of the virus.
Since February, daily infection numbers, hospitalisations and deaths have all dropped sharply.
“The bulk of the work in reducing the disease has been done by the lockdown,” said Johnson. “As we unlock, the result will inevitably be that we will see more infections and sadly we will see more hospitalisations and deaths.”
With conditions improving, England reopened all retail, hairdressers, gyms and pub gardens on Monday. Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are due to gradually reopen over the coming weeks.
The vaccine rollout also got a boost on Tuesday when Moderna became the third vaccine to be offered in England after the AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech jabs. That will help keep Britain on track to hit its target of offering all adults a vaccine by the end of July.
On Tuesday, National Health Service England said that people aged 45 or over could now book appointments to receive a jab. For those categories already offered a vaccine, it said that 95% of eligible people had taken up the offer.
However young Britons may miss out on the one-dose Covid jab due to fears of rare blood clots, says the Sun.
Ministers hoped the Johnson & Johnson vaccine could be a “jab and go” solution for those in their 20s and 30s wanting a holiday abroad.
Its rollout has been delayed after six reports of blood clots – one fatal – were linked to the vaccine, which has been given to 6.8 million people in the US.
With fewer than one in a million affected, experts say any risk is “incredibly rare” but it has led to US health authorities calling for a “pause” in use – while the pharma giant Janssen is delaying it in Europe.
It is similar to the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, which is also being linked to rare blood clots.
Britain has bought 30 million Johnson & Johnson doses but health sources said, “There is no reason to panic. We still have a large number of other vaccines.”
Brits in their 30s should be offered a jab within weeks, with those in their 40s currently being called in. UK regulators say under-30s should be offered an alternative to the AstraZeneca due to the very slight clots risk.
With more than 127,000 fatalities, the UK has the fifth-highest Covid-19 death toll in the world.