11:51 GMT25 January 2021
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    PM Boris Johnson promised a "phased" relaxation of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions — currently at nationwide lockdown level — once the nearly-14 million most vulnerable had been vaccinated against the deadly virus.

    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has cautiously welcomed signs that the coronavirus lockdown is working - as hospital cases fell in parts of the country.

    "What we are now seeing - and it's very, very important to stress that these are early days - we are now seeing the beginnings of some signs that [the lockdown] is starting to have an effect in many parts of the country, but by no means everywhere. And it is early days," Johnson told Parliament at PM's Questions on Wednesday.

    But he warned "people must keep their discipline" and continue to follow lockdown rules

    The Health Service Journal reported on Wednesday that hospital admissions with coronavirus had fallen in London and the South-East of England — two infection hotspots — over the past week.

    Johnson rejected demands by opposition Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer for even stricter lockdown rules — which have already seen all schools shut for most pupils and pubs and restaurants forced to close except for takeaways — pointing to the severe mental health effects of isolation.

    Julian Sturdy, Conservative MP for the York Outer seat, pressed Johnson on when lockdown restrictions would be lifted once "immunity widens" amid the ongoing vaccination campaign, which had seen over 2.4 million people receive at east one dose by Tuesday evening.

    The PM pledged a "phased relaxation of controls" once the top four groups in the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) priority list have been inoculated. Those include all those above the age of 70, care home residents, frontline healthcare workers and the "clinically extremely vulnerable", totalling almost 14 million people or more than one in five of the population.

    ​The government has made preventing an overload of the National Health Service a key aim of — and justification for — lockdown measures since they were first imposed last spring.

    The UK has so far registered more than three million COVID-19 cases and 83,000 deaths since the end of January last year.

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    Tags:
    Keir Starmer, coronavirus, COVID-19, Boris Johnson
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