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LONDON: The UK government on Sunday vowed to offer a first coronavirus vaccine dose to every adult by the end of July, as it readied to announce a gradual easing of its third lockdown in England.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who will outline the lockdown review in parliament on Monday, said the faster inoculation campaign would seek to offer a first dose to everyone aged over 50 by mid-April.

The previous targets were to inoculate over 50s by May, and all adults by September.

“We will now aim to offer a jab to every adult by the end of July, helping us protect the most vulnerable sooner, and take further steps to ease some of the restrictions,” Johnson said, while stressing the exit would be “cautious and phased”.

Britain, one of the hardest-hit countries in the world by the Covid-19 pandemic with more than 120,000 deaths, was also the first nation to begin a mass vaccination campaign, in December. More than 17 million people have now received at least a first dose — one third of the adult UK population.

But with infection rates and hospitalisations soaring after an easing of restrictions over Christmas, the government imposed a third lockdown at the start of January, closing schools, non-essential businesses and hospitality venues across England.

Case numbers are falling again and early evidence suggests the vaccinations are helping to reduce serious illness, while political pressure is building on the government to return to normality.

Johnson was meeting with senior ministers on Sunday to finalise his House of Commons statement, which is expected to endorse the reopening of English schools on March 8 — although teaching unions say allowing all pupils to return on the same day is “reckless”.

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