Prime Minister Boris Johnson was warned that the easing of lockdown restrictions will “inevitably” lead to more Covid-19 infections and deaths.
His comments come as the NHS moves on to the next phase of the vaccine rollout, with people aged between 45 and 50 now invited to book an appointment.
The PM has urged people to “exercise restraint” following the reopening of beer gardens and non-essential shops in England on Monday (12 April), which saw people turn out in droves to enjoy the grand reopening.
While MrJohnson said the rollout of the coronavirus vaccines has helped, the lockdown restrictions have done “the bulk of the work” in driving infection rates down.
The vaccination programme has now reached the start of “Phase 2”, which will see jabs offered to healthy adults under the age of 50.
People in the 45 to 49 age bracket are now being invited to book appointments, after the government met its target of offering a vaccine to everyone in the highest risk groups by 15 April.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has also insisted that the decision of Johnson & Johnson to delay the rollout of its vaccine in Europe would not impact the UK’s aim of offering a jab to all adults by the end of July.
The UK has ordered 30 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but it has yet to be authorised for use by the independent Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
Speaking in Downing Street on Tuesday (13 April), Mr Johnson said: “It’s great that we have managed to achieve the target of getting everyone in the one to nine (priority) groups vaccinated by the deadline, by the time table - a little bit ahead actually.
“32 million people now have got their first dose, which is terrific. We are going now to the 45 to 49 group, they are being asked to come forward.
“Of course the vaccination programme has helped, but the bulk of the work in reducing the disease has been done by the lockdown.
“So, as we unlock, the result will inevitably be that we will see more infection, sadly we will see more hospitalisation and deaths. People have just got to understand that.”
Mr Johnson stressed there are no plans at present to change the road map out of lockdown in England, with the next easing of rules due on 17 May and 21 June.
He added: “Iit is very, very important that, if we are to get there in the way that we all want, people continue to be cautious and they continue to exercise restraint and just do the basic things to stop the spread of the virus – washing your hands, giving people plenty of space, doing things in fresh air.”.
Vaccinations ‘vitally important’
Mr Johnson has urged everyone who is eligible to receive a Covid-19 vaccine to come forward for their jab when it is offered, adding that he remains “very confident” about vaccine supplies despite previous concerns over constraints.
An estimated 27 million people in England are in the top nine priority groups, so it is understood that around 25.7 million have now received their first Covid-19 jab.
However, this suggests around 1.3 million have not come forward for their jab when invited.
One vaccination expert said that it was “vitally important” to vaccinate “the last few per cent”, or they could risk infection and end up in hospital.
Professor Jeremy Brown, from University College London Hospitals and a member of the Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), told the Today programme: “The problem here is that 5 to 10 per cent have not been vaccinated.
“When the virus re-circulates through the community they could get infected and end up in hospital.
“So it’s vitally important that we get that last few per cent.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that people aged over 45 in Scotland would start to receive their invites “in the next few days”.
In Northern Ireland, people aged over 40 are already eligible to get a Covid-19 vaccine, while appointments for 40 to 49 year-olds began in Wales last week.