UK PM under pressure to ease curbs as coronavirus vaccination milestone hit

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The U.K. recorded 15 million vaccinations against the coronavirus, a milestone that is set to increase pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to begin reopening the economy.

Johnson praised what he called an “extraordinary feat and said that England had already met a target set earlier this year of immunizing the top four priority groups, including the over 70s, by Feb. 15. Wales also confirmed reaching the threshold. More than 25% of the adult population has now received at least one shot.

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The U.K. has delivered one of the most successful immunization programs in the world, administering hundreds of thousands of vaccines each day. That’s a welcome political boost for Johnson, whose government has been slammed for its handling of the pandemic, which has claimed over 117,000 lives.

But it sets the stage for a battle with Conservative members of Parliament who want the prime minister to move faster to ease a third national lockdown that has closed schools and shuttered businesses still reeling from the deepest economic slump in more than 300 years.

In a letter to Johnson, a group of 63 MPs said there was “no justification for not lifting all Covid restrictions by the end of April when the government hopes to have vaccinated everyone over the age of 50.

Meanwhile for the travel industry, things are set to get tougher. Starting Monday, passengers arriving in the U.K. from coronavirus hot spots will be required to quarantine in government-managed hotel rooms for 10 days. The new rules apply to anyone who has visited any of 33 countries on a travel ban list in the previous 10 days.

Priority Groups

In a video message Sunday, Johnson hailed a “significant milestone in the battle to bring the disease under control, with the four priority groups estimated to account for about 88% of deaths from Covid-19.

The government plans to vaccinate another 17 million people by the end of April, covering 99% of those most at risk of dying from Covid-19, with all adults offered a first dose by the autumn.

But while infection rates -- among the highest in Europe -- are coming down, the prime minister has stressed the need for caution. Johnson wants schools to reopen on March 8. The government will then consider relaxing outdoor recreation, followed by non-essential retail and then hospitality, according to a government official.

The U.K. reported 10,972 new cases on Sunday, and total infections now top 4 million. That’s down from early January, when the U.K. posted a seven-day average of almost 60,000 cases a day. There were 258 new deaths.

The government plans to outline a road map for exiting the current restrictions on Feb. 22.

“We do need to be very careful in how we proceed, Foreign Secretrary Dominic Raab said on Sky. “We have made good progress. We don’t want to see that unravel because we go too far.

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