The UK has started clearing cases of the contagious South African variant of the coronavirus and will only come out of the lockdown gradually to ensure nothing changes, the country’s health minister said Sunday.
A day before Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined his plan to ease restrictions in England, Hancock announced that there was also early data showing that the faster-than-expected introduction of vaccines reduced transmission and eased pressure on hospitals.
The UK has the fifth worst official COVID-19 death toll in the world with 120,365 deaths. Attempting mass vaccine supplies early, however, means every third adult has had a first shot and daily death rates have begun to decline.
According to Hancock, the UK had recorded a total of around 300 cases of the more contagious South African variant of the disease that causes COVID-19.
“But most of these are historic cases today, dating back over a month,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show. “The latest data shows that there are around a dozen new ones, so a much, much smaller number.”
England has also introduced hotel quarantines to prevent variants from traveling from abroad.
So far, the UK has given a first dose of a vaccine to 17.2 million people, more than a quarter of its 67 million population and only Israel and the United Arab Emirates have received vaccines per capita.
The government said Sunday that all adults in the UK should be offered a first shot by the end of July, with a goal of giving all over 50s a first dose by April 15.
Despite the improving picture, Hancock and lead epidemiologist John Edmunds said that restrictions need to be relaxed gently and gradually to see the impact the increased movement of people is having on the virus.
Hancock suggested that any easing could take a few weeks to see the effects before another part of the economy can reopen. Schools are expected to return in early March.
Edmunds said it was difficult to say how widespread the South African variant is, but like the rest of the pandemic, the lockdown will keep it in place.
“The risk is if we lift the lockdown,” he said, adding that circulating the virus in younger, healthier people could lead to more mutations that undermine the vaccination program.
Johnson will set out on Monday his thoughts on easing the lockdown. Despite pressure from a group of lawmakers in his party who were shocked by the 10% contraction in the economy in 2020, the Prime Minister is expected to be cautious.
“There should be no doubt – the road out of lockdown will be cautious and gradual as we continue to protect ourselves and those around us,” Johnson said in a statement.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and published from a syndicated feed.)