UK hits vaccine target; Johnson warns of more virus deaths

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People sit at setup tables outside pubs in Soho, in London, on the day some of England's third coronavirus lockdown restrictions were eased by the British government, Monday, April 12, 2021. Pubs, shops and hairdressers have opened as lockdown restrictions are eased Monday. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

LONDON – Britain began offering coronavirus vaccinations to anyone over 45 on Tuesday after hitting its target of giving at least one dose to everyone over 50 by the middle of April.

Despite the good news, Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that the U.K. would inevitably see “more hospitalization and deaths” as it emerges from lockdown. On Monday, non-essential shops, hairdressers, gyms, restaurant patios and beer gardens reopened in England.

Days before its self-imposed April 15 deadline, the government said everyone in its top priority groups — over 50s, health care workers and people with serious medical conditions — had been offered a jab, and about 95% of them received one. More than 32 million people, over 60% of the country's adults, have had a first shot and almost 15% of adults have gotten both doses.

Vaccine eligibility was expanded Tuesday to people ages 45-49, the start of the second phase of the inoculation campaign. The government aims to give everyone over 18 at least one dose by July 31.

The move came the day after some lockdown rules in place for more than three months were lifted in England. Relieved residents flocked to areas such as London’s Soho nightlife district, where tables were packed into narrow streets that had been closed to traffic.

Officials in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are easing their restrictions at slightly different paces. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that a “stay local” order would be lifted on Friday, when people will be able to travel within the country and meet others outdoors.

Politicians and scientists tried to temper the euphoria at the return of some freedoms with a warning that the virus still poses a major threat.

Britain has had Europe’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak, with more than 127,000 confirmed deaths. A combination of rapid vaccination and lockdown has sharply decreased its infection and mortality rates.