Britain has started reducing cases of South Africa’s most infectious variant of the coronavirus and will only come out of the lockdown in stages to ensure that does not change, the country’s health secretary said on Sunday.
A day before Prime Minister Boris Johnson presented his plan to ease restrictions in England, Hancock said there was also preliminary data showing that the faster-than-expected rollout of the vaccine was reducing transmissions and easing pressure on hospitals.
Britain has the fifth worst official death toll from COVID-19 in the world, with 120,365 dead, but an early attempt to secure the mass vaccine supply means one in three adults has now had a first vaccine and daily death rates have started to decline.
Hancock said in total, the UK has recorded around 300 cases of South Africa’s most infectious variant of the disease that causes COVID-19.
“But most of those cases are now historical cases and go back more than a month,” he told the TBEN’s Andrew Marr show. “The latest data shows there are a dozen new ones, so a lot, much smaller number.”
England has also introduced hotel quarantines to prevent variants from traveling abroad.
Britain has so far given a first dose of vaccine to 17.2 million people, more than a quarter of its 67 million people and behind only Israel and the United Arab Emirates in per capita vaccines.
The government said on Sunday that all UK adults will be offered a first vaccine by the end of July, with a goal of giving a first dose to everyone over 50 by April 15.
But despite the improvement in the situation, Hancock and leading epidemiologist John Edmunds said the restrictions needed to be relaxed slowly and in stages, to see the impact of increased movement of people on the virus.
Hancock suggested that each easing could take a few weeks to detect the impact, before another part of the economy can reopen. Schools are expected to return first in early March.
Edmunds said it was difficult to say how widespread the South African variant was, but like the rest of the pandemic, it was being held in place by the lockdown.
“The risk arises when we release the lockdown,” he said, adding that allowing the virus to circulate in healthier younger people could lead to new mutations that undermine the vaccination program.
Johnson will outline his thoughts on easing the lockdown on Monday. Despite pressure from part of his party’s lawmakers who were shocked by the 10% contraction of the economy in 2020, the prime minister should be wary.
“There should be no doubt – the path out of the lockdown will be careful and gradual, as we all continue to protect ourselves and those around us,” Johnson said in a statement.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by The Bharat Express News staff and is posted Platforms.)