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Lockdown and vaccine drive saw UK COVID cases drop 60% in March, says study

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Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks, during a coronavirus briefing in Downing Street, London, Monday April 5, 2021.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks, during a coronavirus briefing in Downing Street, London, Monday April 5, 2021.   -   Copyright  Stefan Rousseau/Pool via AP
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The number of new COVID-19 infections in Britain dropped by 60 per cent in March as lockdown measures and mass vaccination slowed the spread of the virus, a new study has found.

According to researchers at Imperial College London, people 65 and over were the least likely to be infected as they benefited most from the vaccination programme.

The study also found that the relationship between infections and deaths is diverging, "suggesting that infections may have resulted in fewer hospitalisations and deaths since the start of widespread vaccination".

As of Thursday afternoon, nearly 37.9 million doses of the vaccines have been administered in the UK, with more than 6 million people fully vaccinated.

The study comes after the European and British medicines regulators both warned of a possible link between the jab developed by AstraZeneca/Oxford University and a risk of serious blood clot issues. Both also reiterated their stance that the benefits of using the jab outweigh the risks.

In response, British health authorities said people under the age of 30 should be offered a different vaccine.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News that the public should be reassured by the abundance of caution demonstrated by authorities to make sure the vaccine rollout is as safe as possible.

"What we’ve learned in the last 24 hours is that the rollout of the vaccine is working, we’ve seen that the safety system is working because the regulators can spot even this extremely rare event — four in a million — and take necessary action to ensure the rollout is as safe as it possibly can be," he said. "And we are seeing that the vaccine is working. It’s breaking the link between cases and deaths."

The UK started battling a third wave of the pandemic from early December when it started rolling out the vaccines. It ushered in the New Year with a 14-day streak of more than 50,000 new daily infections blamed on the emergence of the British variant, which is thought to be up to 70 per cent more transmissible.

On Thursday, some 3,030 cases were confirmed across the UK.

England was put under a third lockdown to reign in the spread of the pandemic on January 6 and only just started easing restrictions.

Groups of no more than six people have been allowed to meet outdoors since March 29 with the next round of easing scheduled for April 12, when nonessential shops will be allowed to reopen, along with hair salons, gyms and outdoor service at pubs and restaurants.

But Imperial College also warned on Thursday that the government's current roadmap out of lockdown could lead to an additional 15,700 COVID-19 deaths in England by June 2022.

They emphasised that their estimate does not account for "waning of both naturally acquired and vaccine-induced immunity" and for the emergence of variants resistant to the vaccines "which could make the outcome worse than estimated."

The UK is Europe's worst-hit country with a death toll of more 127,000.