Boris Johnson has warned that the reduction in coronavirus infections, hospitalisations and deaths “has not been achieved” by the rollout of COVID vaccines.

The prime minister, speaking the day after the latest easing of lockdown restrictions, instead said it was the national shutdown that had been “overwhelmingly important” in driving down COVID rates.

Nearly 40 million vaccine doses have now been given across the UK, with those aged between 45 to 49 now able to book their jab appointments.

But, speaking in 10 Downing Street, Mr Johnson suggested the millions of vaccines given over the past few months was not key to the reduction in COVID levels.

He said: “The numbers are down – of infections and hospitalisations and deaths.

“But it is very, very important for everybody to understand that the reduction in these numbers – in hospitalisations and in deaths and infections – has not been achieved by the vaccination programme.

“People don’t, I think, appreciate that it’s the lockdown that has been overwhelmingly important in delivering this improvement in the pandemic and in the figures that we’re seeing.

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“And so, yes of course the vaccination programme has helped, but the bulk of the work in reducing the disease has been done by the lockdown.

“So, as we unlock, the result will inevitably be that we will see more infection, sadly we will see more hospitalisation and deaths, and people have just got to understand that.”

However, the prime minister added that “at the moment” he couldn’t see “any reason” to change his roadmap for easing lockdown restrictions.

The next stage of the roadmap, on 17 May, will allow restaurants and pubs to resume indoor service.