Lockdowns in the UK could finish by the end of February once a group of up to 15 million vulnerable people have been vaccinated, the Mail on Sunday 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. The UK 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 the UK 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 Plc will be rolled out across the UK starting Jan. 4, the Sunday Telegraph reported, citing plans that ministers are drawing up. The government is hoping that 2 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 Dec. 28. Responding to the report, a Health Department spokesperson said by email 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 centers 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 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 of Dec.24, according to the latest government data. A reading above 1.0 indicates the spread of the virus is accelerating. The UK reported 34,693 more cases and 210 deaths on Dec. 26.