Wales’ Health Minister has confirmed the country will aim to offer coronavirus vaccinations to its entire adult population by the end of July.
Vaughan Gething said the pledge was dependent on the continued supply of vaccines to Wales, with more than a third of the country’s over-18s having already received a first dose.
It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday that all adults in the UK would be offered a jab by July 31, though the order of priority for those under 50 has yet to be outlined by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
At the Welsh Government’s press briefing on Wednesday, Mr Gething described both Wales’ vaccination and testing programmes as the “beacon of hope that will help to guide us out of lockdown”.
He said: “I can today confirm that we will offer the vaccine to all eligible adults in Wales by July 31, as long as supply matches our ability to deliver and our ambition.”
Hitting the target would mean vaccinating around 2.5 million people in Wales, with the Welsh Government previously saying it intended to do so by September.
More than 878,000 people in Wales have now had their first dose of the vaccine, he said, accounting for nearly 28% of the country’s population.
Wales currently leads the rest of the UK in overall population coverage at 27.6%, with England and Scotland both on 26.8% and Northern Ireland on 24.7%.
Mr Gething said a revised vaccine strategy to be published later this week would set out “how we will grow and adapt the places where the vaccines are being administered”.
Updates to the strategy will also include maintaining levels of vaccine uptake, increasing engagement with people who are difficult to reach or reluctant to take up an offer, and will take into account new prioritisation for people on the learning disability register.
Mr Gething also said cases of Covid-19 are now at their lowest point in Wales since the end of September.
Its incidence rate has dropped to 76 cases per 100,000 people, while the R number is estimated to be between 0.6 and 0.9.
Mr Gething said the Welsh Government would look carefully at plans announced by England and Scotland about their respective easing of lockdown restrictions.
But he described the Prime Minister’s road map as “moving away” from the UK’s medical and scientific advice, with all pupils in England to return to school on March 8, while a phased approach in Wales will see secondary pupils only return after Easter.
“Where possible we want to be able to agree a joint approach. But England made different policy choices,” Mr Gething said.
“The advice from the chief medical officers and the scientific evidence isn’t really any different within the UK. What England have chosen to do is to move away from the advice in having a more phased approach to school reopening, but to have a ‘big bang’ reopening on March 8.”
Mr Gething said he would not forecast further changes to Wales’ restrictions past Easter, when tourism could be allowed to reopen, saying doing so at other times during the pandemic had “made a mug of a range of people”.
“Whether it’s coronavirus sent packing within 12 weeks, of a vaccine by September, or substantive normality by December, all of those things have been proven to be long-term punts that haven’t fared well with reality,” he said.
But Mr Gething did say Wales was considering ending its stay-at-home requirement and returning to “stay local” guidance following the next Government review by March 12.
The guidance which required people in Wales to stay within five miles of their homes was in place nationally until it was removed in July last year.