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UPDATE 3-UK 's Johnson optimistic COVID lockdown can be eased soon

Michael Holden
·2 min read

(Updates with Johnson comments)

By Michael Holden

LONDON, Feb 13 (Reuters) - British Prime Minister BorisJohnson said on Saturday he was optimistic he could announce theeasing of some lockdown measures soon as the government nearsits target of offering vaccines to 15 million people in prioritygroups.

The government says it is on track to have offered aninjection by Monday to everyone who is aged 70 and over, as wellas those who are clinically vulnerable, frontline health andsocial care workers and older adults in care homes.

With infections and hospitalisations beginning to fall,Johnson is under pressure from some in his own party to set outwhen strict lockdown restrictions, which have caused the biggestcrash in economic output in more than 300 years, will be eased.

"I'm optimistic, I won't hide it from you, I'm optimistic,but we have to be cautious " Johnson, who will outline a routemap out of the lockdown on Feb. 22, told broadcasters.

He said reopening schools remained the priority, with thehope they could return on March 8.

"Then working forwards to getting non-essential retail openas well, and then in due course as and when we can prudently andcautiously of course, we want to be opening hospitality aswell," he said.

Britain, which has recorded more than 120,000 deaths fromCOVID-19, was the first Western country to begin massvaccinations in December, and more than 14 million Britons havesince received their first dose.

But Johnson said the number of new COVID-19 cases remainedvery high, with more than 15,000 reported on Friday, as did thenumber of deaths, but "perhaps starting to come down quitefast".

Some newspapers reported on Saturday pubs and restaurantsmight be able to serve to customers outdoors from as early asApril, and restrictions on social mixing easing by May, butJohnson declined to be drawn on that timetable.

He also echoed health minister Matt Hancock who earlier saidthe country could live with the virus as it did with flu by theend of the year and make it a treatable disease.

"I do think that in due time, it will become something thatwe simply live with some people will be more vulnerable thanothers that's inevitable," Johnson said.

Hancock also announced that innovative treatments for COVIDwould soon be fast-tracked through the UK’s clinical trialsystem, to make them available in months rather than years.(Reporting by Costas Pitas and Michael Holden. Editing by JaneMerriman and Angus MacSwan)