The UK is close to being able to ease most COVID-19 restrictions following a successful vaccination program and a drop in infections, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said. Image Credit: AP

London: The UK is close to being able to ease most COVID-19 restrictions following a successful vaccination program and a drop in infections, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said, suggesting a handful of safeguards will remain by mid-year.

People still need to be careful about social contact, Raab said on Sky News’s “Sophy Ridge on Sunday” show. Asked why two fully vaccinated adults from different households still aren’t allowed to hug, he said “we’ve just got to gauge very carefully” how matters develop as the U.K. works its way through a roadmap for unlocking the economy.

“We are very close now to really turning the corner and I think we still need to be careful as we go,” Raab said. “We don’t want to see the gains lost and the sacrifices that have been made undone. I know that people are hankering just to go a bit faster but actually we, I think, feel vindicated that taking steady steps out of the lockdown is the smart way to go.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is resisting calls from members of his ruling Conservative Party to speed up the easing of rules that have been in place for much of the past 13 months as the U.K. emerges from its third coronavirus lockdown. The current timeline for unlocking the economy envisages further relaxations on May 17 and then June 21.

With the U.K. suffering one of the worst death tolls from the pandemic so far, Johnson’s administration has also rolled out one of the most successful inoculation programs, with more that 34 million adults receiving at least one dose of vaccine. That’s helped turn the tide on the country’s second wave of the pandemic, with daily deaths falling to 7 on Saturday, from more than 1,300 at its peak in January.

Raab warned some restrictions may still be needed after the end of June - despite the government timeline proposing “no legal limits” on social contact after June 21.

“We want to get to a position at the end of June where we can get life back as close to normal as possible, but there’ll still need to be some safeguards in place,” Raab told the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show.” Asked what kind of safeguards, he replied that “particularly, I think, it’ll be around distancing; maybe there’ll be something around masks.”

Green list

The timeline also would see international holidays permitted again from May 17. Raab told the BBC “the decision’s coming shortly” on how that will operate, amid calls from airlines and travel companies for details on which countries will be placed on a green list of destinations that Britons can visit without having to quarantine upon their return.

UK authorities are also examining ways to relax requirements for contacts of those infected with coronavirus to self-isolate. On Sunday, Public Health England announced a trial of rapid testing to see whether the requirement to self-isolate for 10 days could be replaced by taking daily coronavirus tests.

“It’s just one of the tools, along with the vaccine, that we’re looking at very closely to make sure that we take steps out of this lockdown, back to normal, in a surefooted way,” Raab told Sky.

Asked about a Sunday Times article that said secondary school pupils will be offered a Pfizer vaccine as soon as September, Raab told Sky “I’m not going to speculate on what we’re going to do beyond the existing roadmap.”