British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a televised press conference at 10 Downing Street on February 22, 2021 in London, England.
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U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson had some good news for the country on Monday after months of lockdown, saying an “unparalleled” vaccination program meant it was “now traveling on a one-way road to freedom.”
The lockdown easing for England will come in a number of steps and will be data dependent at every stage, he said. The first step will see schools in England reopen on March 8. The last, planned for June 21, will see the abolishment of all limits on mixing and the reopening of any sectors that remain closed, such as nightclubs.
The U.K. has been one of the worst-hit countries by the pandemic, with the fourth-highest number of infections after the U.S., India and Brazil. To date, it has counted over 4.1 million coronavirus cases and has seen 120,810 fatalities as a result of the virus, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
It saw a sharp rise in cases heading into winter as a new, more infectious strain of the virus emerged in the southeast of the country. It has now become the dominant strain of the virus across the country, and has been detected in numerous countries worldwide, alongside other more virulent strains of the virus.
One silver lining in the U.K.’s experience of the pandemic has been its vaccination response. It was the first country in the world to approve a coronavirus vaccine, the candidate from Pfizer and BioNTech.
It then approved and starting administering the AstraZeneca-University of Oxford jab, a cheaper vaccine that’s produced in the U.K. and is easier to transport and store than rival jabs. As of Saturday, over 17.5 million Britons have received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, with over 600,000 having received both doses, according to government data.
Data shows that new infections are falling, with early studies indicating that coronavirus vaccines also help to prevent transmission of the virus, as well as preventing serious disease.
In the last seven days, the U.K. has seen 77,432 new cases of the coronavirus, down 16.2% from the previous weekly count. The number of deaths in the last seven days, 3,414 fatalities, is also 27.4% lower than the previous seven-day count. Hospitalizations are also falling.
This is a breaking news story and will be updated shortly.
—CNBC’s Holly Ellyatt contributed to this article.