London, Jan 6 (AFP/APP): British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday said the coronavirus marathon had turned into a hopeful sprint to vaccinate millions in the weeks ahead but justified another lockdown to relieve crisis-hit hospitals.
Hastily recalled lawmakers were to vote on the lockdown retrospectively after it took effect across England overnight, forcing schools to close this week as part of a stay-at-home order, while the UK’s other nations have imposed similar curbs.
Johnson said a variant strain of the virus that emerged in southeast England last month was spreading with “frightening ease and speed”, worsening one of the world’s worst death tolls. Official data show that one in 50 people in England were infected last week, rising to one in 30 in London, and many hospitals say they are swamped with Covid-19 patients.
“It is inescapable that the facts are changing, and we must change our response,” Johnson told the House of Commons, noting the lockdown would stay in legal force until March 31 but would be reviewed in mid-February. By then, the government plans to have given a first vaccine dose to about 14 million people including everyone over 80, care home residents and all frontline medics in the National Health Service (NHS).
Britain was the first country to start rolling out vaccines last month with the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, and this week began injections of a home-grown jab developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca.
So far, over 1.3 million people have received the first dose of one or the other vaccine across the UK, and the government is delaying follow-up doses in order to spread as much protection around the population as possible.
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