The UK’s vaccination programme is “beginning to really bear fruit” and has allowed the government to unveil its plans for lifting lockdown, the vaccines minister has said.
Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News the “evidence looks good” on COVID vaccines, which have now been given to one in three adults in the UK.
Later, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will set out his roadmap for lifting the current lockdown measures.
Follow live coverage on Sky News as the PM is expected to address the House of Commons at 3.30pm and lead a Downing Street news conference at 7pm
Among the prime minister’s four tests for easing restrictions is that “evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated”.
Mr Zahawi offered a strong hint that the evidence about the impact of vaccines on those groups who have already received jabs was positive.
“Public Health England have been running a couple of large-scale studies,” the vaccines minister said.
“The SIREN study which tests frontline healthcare staff who were in group two of the vaccination programme, so very early on.
“Another study, called VIVALDI, which has been testing care home residents – again they were in group one.
“And, of course, the other evidence but the prime minister will be saying more about that. Suffice to say the evidence looks good.”
Mr Zahawi also noted the team behind the Oxford/AstraZenenca vaccine had found evidence their jab cut transmission by two-thirds.
Under the easing of the current lockdown, all schools in England will reopen to all pupils on 8 March and, on the same date, outdoor recreation with one other person will also be permitted, meaning people will be allowed to sit together in a park with a coffee, drink or picnic.
From 29 March, larger groups will be able to meet outside – including in private gardens – up to a maximum of six people or two households.
Mr Zahawi added: “We wouldn’t be in this place this morning… if we’re not confident that actually the vaccine programme is beginning to really bear fruit.”
The prime minister has previously expressed his hope that the current lockdown will be the last, although he has declined to offer a “cast iron guarantee”.
Asked if he could make such a pledge, Mr Zahawi told Sky News: “I’m confident that if we do this cautiously and we do it based on the data, the evidence, then it will be sustainable.
“And it should be the last time we ever enter the severe level of lockdown because of COVID-19.”
But he also highlighted how possible autumn booster jabs – perhaps to combat new COVID variants – might be needed later this year or in future years.