The UK government, reportedly pinpointing 15 million people for vaccination, may make a move to scrap COVID-19 restrictions in late February possible, the Daily Mail quoted an unnamed source as saying.
"The path to liberation is finally becoming clear", the sources claimed amid reports that between 12 million and 15 million people are expected to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of February.
The vaccination will mean the UK's National Health Service (NHS) "no longer being at risk of being overwhelmed if the coronavirus spread through the greater population", something which will in turn remove "the main argument for shutting the economy at a stroke", according to the insider.
The forecast follows Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi telling The Sun that approval of the "game-changing" Oxford vaccine may be granted on Monday.
The reports come as Chancellor Rishi Sunak praised the early distrubution of vaccines.
In an article for the Daily Mail, he described 2020 as "a tough year for everyone in this country", referring to "businesses which have had to close or friends who have lost their jobs".
"There will be tough days and months ahead, but there are reasons to look ahead to a brighter future and what 2021 promises. The early rollout of vaccines – and the incredible work of our scientists and NHS – means we can now see light at the end of the tunnel with this pandemic", he emphasised.
Hancock Says COVID Restrictions to Be Lifted in Late March
The remarks were preceded by Health Secretary Matt Hancock suggesting in an interview with The Telegraph that a rapid rollout of the coronavirus vaccine could see restrictions relaxed before the end of March 2021.
He stressed that he "can't wait to scrap this tiered system altogether" and for the country to return "to living by mutual respect and personal responsibility, not laws set in Parliament".
"There's no doubt that having the vaccine early will bring forward the moment when we can get rid of these blasted restrictions, but until then we have got to follow them. Help is on its way", he said.
Tory MPs Call for Ease in COVID-19 Restrictions
Hancock spoke after the Coronavirus Recovery Group (CRG) - a group of 70 Tory MPs opposed to harsh anti-pandemic measures – urged the government to ease restrictions even before all age groups are vaccinated.
"As the vaccine is rolled out and the most vulnerable are protected, the government should begin our national renewal by reducing the crippling restrictions on our economy and society", CRG chairman Mark Harper pointed out.
According to him, because of "the enormous costs of these restrictions, both in terms of individual lives and livelihoods" it is crucial that the vaccinations occur as quickly as possible as the country seeks to recover its "physical and economic health".
Tier 4, the most restrictive, is now in place in the south of England after a "new variant" of the coronavirus was identified in the UK, a strain that is believed to be 56% more transmissible than earlier variants and which may result in a significant increase in infections.