Britain is confident that existing vaccines will provide protection from a more transmissible Indian coronavirus variant now spreading across the country, health secretary Matt Hancock said on May 16.
And hours later, he was able to announce that the country had passed the milestone of 20 million adults vaccinated with two doses of the coronavirus jab.
The news came just before England, Scotland and Wales were set to unlock parts of their economy on May 17.
But further steps to open up the country again have been put in doubt by the Indian strain.
Hancock told Sky News the government had a “high degree of confidence” that vaccines would stand up to the B.1.617.2 variant, following new preliminary data from Oxford University.
“That means that we can stay on course with our strategy of using the vaccine to deal with the pandemic,” he said.
Britain, one of the worst-hit countries in the world with over 127,000 deaths, has also seen a rapid deployment of vaccines.
According to government data, the case numbers of the Indian variant have risen from 520 to 1,313 this week.
Hancock warned that because of the high transmission of the Indian variant it could “spread like wildfire amongst the unvaccinated groups” and because of this the government “need to get as many people vaccinated as possible”.
The health secretary defended the government from criticism that it had been too slow to impose travel restrictions on India in the face of the new variant. India was placed under the strict travel restrictions in April before the variant was under investigation, he said.