UK economy grows 0.4% amid confidence from vaccine rollout

LONDON — The U.K. economy grew 0.4% in February, rebounding from a sharp drop the previous month, as the rapid rollout of COVID-19 vaccines boosted confidence in a recovery from the pandemic.

The Office for National Statistics said today that the expansion was led by a 1.3% increase in manufacturing output and a 1.6% boost in construction as most nonessential shops remained closed due to a nationwide lockdown.

England marked the end of its third national lockdown on Monday with the reopening of gyms, hairdressers and nonessential shops. Pubs and restaurants also opened their doors, but only for outdoor service.

“Following the modest improvement in February, the economy seems to have taken significant steps forward during March as increasingly confident businesses prepared for the significant opening up of the economy on 12 April and consumers looked to start releasing pent-up demand,” said Howard Archer, chief economist for the EY Item Club. “The government’s road map out of lockdown does seem to have lifted both business and consumer confidence.”

The economy remains 7.8% smaller than it was last February as the U.K. recovers from its worst recession in 300 years.