Johnson unveils cautious lockdown exit plan

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday unveiled a plan to ease its lockdown and speed up vaccinations, now that a significant portion of the country has been given shots for COVID-19.

Over a quarter of its 67 million people have received a first dose, behind only Israel and the United Arab Emirates in vaccinations per capita.

Although the numbers are encouraging, Johnson says the U.K. must proceed cautiously.

“Even if we sustain the lockdown indefinitely, which would itself cost lives and do immeasurable harm to our children, we would not be able to eradicate this disease. And that's why it's right gradually to replace the protection afforded by the lockdown with the protection of the vaccines. And our approach is to move with the utmost care and advancing in four steps.”

Johnson's path for a "one-way road to freedom" comes after the U.K. imposed one of the world's strictest lockdowns in January to combat the spread of a highly contagious variant of the coronavirus.

Under his plan, schools will reopen the first week of March, while social gathering and workplace limits will remain until further notice.

Non-essential shops and outdoor dining won’t reopen until April 12 at the earliest.

As reopening phases rollout with at least five weeks in between, lawmakers will vote on specific steps.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also ease restrictions over the next few months.

While many have already had their first dose, Johnson's new, earlier target aims for a vaccine shot for everyone over 50 by the end of April and all adults by the end of July.

With nearly 130,000 fatalities, Britain has suffered the world’s fifth-highest official COVID-19 death toll, but it's also overseen the fastest vaccine rollout of any big country, making Britain a test case for governments worldwide hoping to return to some sense of normal.