The UK could see a “significant return to normality” by the summer, one of the government’s top scientific advisers has said, as the nation’s largest ever vaccination programme continues to beat targets.
Andrew Hayward, director of UCL’s Institute for Epidemiology and member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said this morning that vaccinating the most vulnerable, including over-50s and those with chronic illnesses “will allow us to open up”.
“I think what we’ll see is a phased opening up as the vaccination levels increase and then we’ll be more or less back to normal for the summer I would imagine,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
However, Hayward cautioned that Britain is “still in a very serious situation with amongst the highest coronavirus rates in the world,” adding that it is “too early to release just yet”.
“Yes, [Covid rates] are going down, but we know that when we begin to release the rates will start to bounce back very quickly,” he added. “It’s fantastic that we’ve vaccinated 10m people, but there’s still a lot of vulnerable people yet to be vaccinated.”
Sun will shine on UK economy again
It came as Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey also pointed to an economic recovery in the Summer.
Bailey this afternoon said that Britain’s economic performance compared with other countries during the Covid-19 pandemic was nowhere near as bad as official data has suggested.
Britain suffered the biggest real-terms drop in economic output of any Group of Seven rich nation between the first and third quarters of 2020, according to official figures, combined with one of the world’s highest Covid-19 mortality rates.
“Actually I think the UK’s performance is nowhere near as adverse … as suggested by the headline numbers,” Bailey told broadcasters after the Bank kept its stimulus programmes on hold before an expected economic recovery later this year.
Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer in England, last night told a Downing Street press conference that the UK is “past the peak” of the second wave of coronavirus, with the vaccination programme offering a further light at the end of the tunnel.
The UK is currently well on track to meet the government’s target of offering a first dose of the coronavirus vaccine to the 14.9m most at-risk members of the population by 15 February.
By then, ministers expect to have immunised all over-70s, care home residents and staff, frontline health and social care staff, and individuals who are clinically vulnerable.
The vaccination programme will then turn to other priority groups, with hopes that the bulk of the adult population will begin receiving the jab by spring.
Health secretary Matt Hancock has vowed that all over-18s in the UK will be offered a first dose by September.
An official review in the week commencing 15 February will consider the latest evidence on the efficacy of vaccines, and the emergence of new Covid mutations.
While there are concerns that new strains first identified in Kent, South Africa and Brazil may prove partially resistant to available vaccines, several companies including Astrazeneca, GlaxoSmithKline and Moderna have said they are currently working on new vaccines especially suited to mutant coronavirus strains.
Great British summer
Boris Johnson last month promised 2021 would bring the return of the “Great British summer”, after Brits were last year urged to opt for “staycations” while the airline industry remained all but grounded.
The Prime Minister has refused to give “concrete” dates for allowing trips abroad to recommence, but said he would set out more details on 22 February.
All international travel out of the country is currently prohibited under lockdown rules, meaning people can only travel abroad for essential purposes such as work that cannot be done from home, medical appointments or educational reasons.
Ministers are currently drawing up plans to introduce a mandatory 10-day hotel quarantine for international arrivals to the UK from a list of 30 “red zone” countries most at risk of carrying emerging Covid variants.
But business leaders have warned the scheme will likely deal a hammer blow to the aviation industry, which has remained crippled during the pandemic.
Chief executives including Sean Doyle of British Airways, Johan Lundgren of Easyjet and Shai Weiss of Virgin Atlantic have all written to the Prime Minister demanding “an urgent roadmap for the reopening of air travel”.