A top UK health official said on Sunday that people may need to wear masks and maintain physical distancing in the country for several years, till the situation returns to normal, BBC reported.

Public Health England’s chief of immunisation Mary Ramsay said that these restrictions were now accepted by many people, and doesn’t affect the functioning of the economy.

“People have got used to those lower-level restrictions now, and people can live with them, and the economy can still go on with those less severe restrictions in place,” she said. “So I think certainly for a few years, at least until other parts of the world are as well vaccinated as we are, and the numbers have come down everywhere, that is when we may be able to go very gradually back to a more normal situation.”

By Saturday, half the adults in the UK had received at least one vaccine shot, making it the first country to reach such a milestone. As many as 2.76 crore people have received at least one shot of the vaccine, while 23 lakh people have had both doses in the UK. Britain aims to vaccinate all adults by July and everyone over 50 by mid-April, according to Reuters.

On Saturday alone, as many as 8.44 lakh people were given a shot of the vaccine. However, the rate of vaccination may reduce as the UK is in a tussle with the European Union over AstraZeneca vaccine exports.

Meanwhile, Britain has planned to ease lockdown restrictions over the next month. Outdoor sports are expected to return, besides the opening up of shops, restaurants and pubs.

Ramsay said this required increased vigilance. It was “very important that we do not relax too quickly”, Ramsay said. “We have to look very carefully before any of these restrictions are lifted.”

On Sunday, the United Kingdom reported 5,312 new coronavirus cases and 33 deaths, the lowest toll since October 5. A weekly average of the cases showed that it had reduced by over 4% since the previous seven-day period.