The vaccination programme is preventing thousands of deaths, as councils support the safe lifting of pandemic-related restrictions.
The progress of the vaccination roll-out continues at pace.
As first was going to press, almost 11.2 million people in the UK had received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, and more than 33.2 million had received their first dose – which is very welcome.
This national success could not have been possible without councils and their teams playing their part, and the news that we are now seeing fewer deaths and hospitalisations is incredibly positive.
The vaccination programme has prevented thousands of deaths and it will continue to protect many, many more as the rollout continues.
Meanwhile, a new Government Antivirals Taskforce has been announced, which will help identify new medicines for the treatment of COVID-19.
The taskforce will be charged with supporting the development of new antiviral treatments through clinical trials to ensure they can be rolled out to patients as early as the autumn.
It is hoped that antivirals could help to reduce infections and limit the impact of any new variants, and also help to protect people who cannot take vaccines or those who are not fully protected after having the jab.
As we turn our attention to the future, the presence of variants of the virus means that it is likely that the vaccination rollout will be an ongoing process, with boosters required for those who have already been vaccinated.
The Government has already procured enough vaccine doses to begin booster shots later this year and is working with vaccine suppliers to design new vaccines specifically targeted at the variants of concern like the variant first found in South Africa.
Thank you for all the work you have done and continue to do to support the vaccination rollout in your areas, and in particular to encourage residents from all communities to come forward for jabs.
I know that many of you who were busy last month preparing for the reopening of non-essential retail, outdoor hospitality, gyms and indoor leisure facilities will now be working towards the next milestone in the Government’s roadmap to recovery.
From 17 May at the earliest in England, it is hoped that most social contact rules will be lifted outdoors, with people finally able to meet up indoors (six people or two households), eat and drink indoors in restaurants and pubs, and stay overnight in hotels.
These milestones are being achieved in large part because of the efforts of councils to support businesses to reopen safely and smoothly, as local government helps our high streets and city centres bounce back from what has been an enormously challenging time for local firms.
The safe and smooth reopening of our high streets and town centres, and of individual businesses, is a key priority for councils and we have been highlighting to government your work to advise and support local companies to reopen.
This work draws on experience and lessons learned from previous relaxations of pandemic-related restrictions, including the importance of collaborative working across councils, the police, businesses and the public, all of whom have a role to play in ensuring reopening continues safely.