LONDON  

British Business Secretary Alok Sharma announced on Sunday a wave of new investment to accelerate development and mass production of a COVID-19 vaccine, as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told members of his party that he wanted the country to return to normal by the end of July.

Speaking at the daily press briefing, Sharma announced 34,636 people had died from coronavirus across the UK, a rise of 170 in the last 24 hours.

“We need to find a safe, workable vaccine,” Sharma said.

He said all participants in phase one of the Oxford University clinical trial had received their vaccine doses earlier in the week, and are now being monitored. Imperial College London’s vaccine will move into clinical trials by mid-June.

Sharma said the government had previously invested £47 million ($56.7 million) in both vaccine projects, and was now investing a further £84 million. The fresh wave of investment would be used to accelerate and mass produce the Oxford vaccine, if it proves successful, so that there will be enough doses to be given to the British people straight away.

He also said Oxford University had finalized a global licensing deal with AstraZeneca for manufacturing the virus. If the trials are successful, they will make 30 million vaccine doses for Britain by September, and 100 million doses in total. They will also make the vaccine available to developing countries “at the lowest possible cost.”

Sharma announced a further £94 million investment in the Vaccines Manufacturing Innovation Centre to be based in Oxfordshire. The centre will open in summer 2021, a year ahead of schedule, and be able to produce enough vaccines for the entire British population within six months.

Until then, the government will build a rapid deployment facility, costing £38 million, and will begin manufacturing at scale from the summer.

– ‘Near normal within 2 months’

The wave of government spending on vaccines comes as local media reported on Sunday that Johnson told his Conservative Party colleagues he aims to return the country to near-normality by July.

Speaking to 100 of his MPs via video-link, he said he would take “grandmother steps” to easing the lockdown.

An MP who was on the call told the Sun: “Boris told us he is determined that the country should be as close to normality again before the end of July. But he was clear it all depends on the country meeting the conditions set for tackling the virus.

“Most importantly that means bringing down the infection rate — and that can only be achieved if we continue to obey the rules on social distancing to help stop it spreading.”

Johnson also wrote an article in the Mail On Sunday, saying: “I understand people will feel frustrated with some of the new rules. We are trying to do something that has never had to be done before – moving the country out of a full lockdown, in a way which is safe and does not risk sacrificing all of your hard work.

“I recognise what we are now asking is more complex than simply staying at home, but this is a complex problem and we need to trust in the good sense of the British people.”

Since the virus emerged in Wuhan, China last December, it has spread to 188 countries and regions.

The global death toll from the novel coronavirus has exceeded 314,000, with nearly 4.7 million confirmed cases and over 1.72 million recoveries, according to a running tally by US-based Johns Hopkins University.

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