Health

Covid UK: Daily death rate hits 1,820 peak though infections fall


Boris Johnson today warned ‘there will be more’ Covid deaths to come after Britain recorded its deadliest day of the pandemic for the second day in a row with 1,820 more victims.

The Prime Minister called the figure ‘appalling’ as the UK’s overall toll crept closer to the grim 100,00 milestone. 

Department of Health data shows nearly 20,000 fatalities have been recorded in 2021 already, with today’s figure being a 16 per cent rise on the 1,243 recorded last Wednesday. Health bosses declared 1,610 deaths yesterday. 

Despite the grim figures, statistics also showed the second wave is continuing to fade as a result of lockdown. Another 38,905 coronavirus cases were recorded today, down 18 per cent on last Wednesday’s 47,525. 

But Mr Johnson warned of ‘tough weeks to come’ in the pandemic. He said: ‘These figures are appalling, and of course we think of the suffering that each one of those deaths represents to their families and to their friends.

‘I’ve got to tell you … there will be more to come because what we’re seeing is the result of the wave of the new variant that we saw just before Christmas on December 18, or thereabouts.’ 

Fatalities lag a few weeks behind infections due to the time it takes between catching and falling seriously ill with Covid, which means the effects of the January shutdown might not be felt in the death figures until next week. 

The PM told the Downing Street briefing: ‘We must hope that by getting the numbers – the daily infections – down in the way that perhaps has been happening since the lockdown, that will feed through into a reduction in deaths as well.

‘But I must stress we have tough weeks to come now as we roll out the vaccine. The light will only really begin to dawn as we get those vaccinations out.’  

It comes amid renewed hopes for Britain’s great vaccine rollout as 350,000 doses were dished out yesterday. One Government insider told MailOnline they hoped it meant the programme was ‘back on track’. 

Mr Johnson said: ‘We’re going absolutely as fast as we can and it is literally a race against time, a race to protect the elderly and the vulnerable in the context of what is still a very, very tough pandemic.’  

Boris Johnson stressed the scale of the challenge as he was grilled by MPs in the Commons this afternoon, after alarm that the daily rate had fallen for a third consecutive day

Boris Johnson stressed the scale of the challenge as he was grilled by MPs in the Commons this afternoon, after alarm that the daily rate had fallen for a third consecutive day

Ms Patel said factory upgrades and supply chain overhauls would hit the availability of vaccines in the coming weeks

Ms Patel said factory upgrades and supply chain overhauls would hit the availability of vaccines in the coming weeks

Britons sit socially distanced after receiving a dose of a Covid-19 vaccine at Salisbury cathedral today

Britons sit socially distanced after receiving a dose of a Covid-19 vaccine at Salisbury cathedral today 

So what IS holding up Britain’s great Covid vaccine rollout? 

Fears Britain may be lagging behind on the great vaccination rollout was raised yesterday, after the daily rate fell for a third consecutive day.

But there is mounting confusion about the source of the problems.

Here, MailOnline delves into some of the factors that could be hampering the roll-out.

SUPPLY? 

Officials say there are ‘a lot of moving parts’ contributing to the slowdown, with ‘intermittent’ deliveries of supplies’ playing a role.

Pfizer’s supplies have been dented by an upgrade to its Belgian factor, which will continue into next month.

Government sources have dismissed claims there are 21million doses of vaccines already in the country, although they refused to give details of stocks saying it would be a security risk.  

DISTRIBUTION?

Sadiq Khan last week accused No10 of not delivering a fair share of the Covid vaccines to London. Ministers and the NHS denied the claims.

London’s mayor blamed a simplistic formula for the lack of supply, saying the algorithm did not take into account the size of GP practices.

The allocation is believed to have been based on take-up of last season’s flu vaccine, which was relatively low.

CARE HOME FOCUS? 

No10 sources have also claimed the rollout is being slowed down through difficulties contacting the remaining over-80s.

They said that top priority groups get harder to reach when more have been vaccinated already.

In order to meet the lockdown-easing target, the Government must average more than 350,000 doses a day from now until February 15, with the previously bullish tone of officials becoming increasingly anxious. 

Mr Johnson insisted today the UK will hit his target of inoculating 14 million vulnerable people by mid-FebruaryBut the PM – who was grilled by MPs about the rollout earlier – warned ‘constraints on supply’ were making the situation harder.  

The promising data came amid mounting confusion about the source of the three-day blip in performance, with officials saying there were a ‘lot of moving parts’ that contributed to the slowdown.

Pfizer’s supplies have been dented by a factory upgrade which will continue into next month. Government sources have flatly dismissed claims there are 21million doses of vaccines already in the country, although they refused to give details of stocks saying it would be a security risk.

Sources say other factors include the ‘intermittent’ deliveries of supplies and difficulties contacting the remaining over-80s and covering care homes. MPs have also voiced frustration at the way supplies have been divvied out. In London — which has dished out the fewest jabs — the allocation is believed to have been based on take-up of last season’s flu vaccine, which was relatively low.

In more coronavirus developments on another chaotic day:

  • No10’s chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance took a swipe at Boris Johnson over the timing of lockdowns as he said the government got ‘some things right and some things wrong’;
  • Home Secretary Priti Patel claimed in a leaked recording that she pushed for the UK to close its borders when the pandemic began last year; 
  • Pressure grew on Boris Johnson to speed up the vaccine rollout to care homes, after damning official figures showed they were once again at the heart of Britain’s crisis;
  • One of Israel’s top Covid medics claimed the first dose of Pfizer’s Covid vaccine is less than half as effective as he expected; 
  • Sir Patrick Vallance insisted that the current crop of vaccines should work against the coronavirus variant that emerged in Kent but admitted there were still ‘question marks’ over variants from South Africa and Brazil;
  • Two NHS trusts in the Midlands will start delivering coronavirus vaccines round-the-clock from Thursday, it was claimed;
  • Angry patients claimed that a super-efficient GP surgery that was vaccinating 128 people-an-hour had to slow down after its supplies were capped;
  • Ms Patel has said police and other frontline workers should be among the next priority groups for getting vaccines;
  • Fears of a delayed return for English schools grew as a £78million major daily coronavirus testing scheme was halted over safety fears;
  • Air passengers are willingly taking a £500 fine at UK airports for not having a Covid test so they do not have to give over their personal details – in a trend that damages efforts to keep the UK’s borders firm;
  • The headline CPI inflation rate rose from 0.3 per cent to 0.6 per cent in December putting more pressure on families.  

But hopes that Britain’s great Covid vaccine rollout is still on track were raised today as official data revealed the UK dished out 346,000 jabs yesterday following fears the NHS drive may have stalled.

At PMQs this afternoon, Mr Johnson played up the achievements of the rollout and indicated he is determined to stick with the priority list set out by the JCVI vaccines experts.

Pushed on whether frontline workers such as police, firefighters, carers, and teachers would be given priority in the next phase, Mr Johnson said: ‘We must rely on what the JCVI has to say, the priorities that the experts have decided, but of course we want to see those groups that he mentions vaccinated as soon as possible.

‘I am very pleased that in spite of all the difficulties we gave 1.5million people their first dose, up half a million on the week before.’ 

Meanwhile, there are complaints that the system is descending into a ‘free for all’ with council staff being given jabs before 70-somethings in some areas. The Evening Standard today claimed ineligible Britons have been able to jump the vaccine queue ahead of the elderly by signing up through links being shared on WhatsApp that some NHS trusts use to arrange appointments for medics.

Government sources have pointed the finger at ‘a lot of moving parts’ for the slowdown in the vaccine rollout, including constraints on supply, staffing shortages within the NHS and difficulties contacting the remaining over-80s and covering care homes among the factors.

Any delay in the vaccination programme could extend lockdown further, as ministers are understood to be keen not to lift restrictions until they are sure it will not cause a further resurgence of the virus. 

Reports yesterday claimed that Boris Johnson was targeting Good Friday on April 2 as the earliest date for a significant lifting of the lockdown. According to the Sun, the PM has started ‘top secret’ planning for millions to meet their families over Easter.

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But several sources told the Mail that even this date could look optimistic if the vaccine rollout ran into difficulties.

Pfizer's supplies have been dented by a factory upgrade at its plant in Belgium (pictured) which will continue into next month

Pfizer’s supplies have been dented by a factory upgrade at its plant in Belgium (pictured) which will continue into next month

Has Britain got its Pfizer vaccine strategy wrong?

Israel’s top coronavirus medic has claimed the first dose of Pfizer ‘s Covid vaccine is less effective than he expected.

Dr Nachman Ash, one of the medics leading the Covid-19 response in Israel, said the first instalment of the jab did not cut infection rates as much as he had hoped.

He told local media Army Radio: ‘Many people have been infected between the first and second injections of the vaccine.’ It can take 10 days or more for the immunity to kick in.

Real-world data from Israel’s world-beating rollout showed the first dose led to a 33 per cent reduction in cases of coronavirus between 14 and 21 days afterwards in people who got the jab. Another of the country’s top doctors said it was ‘really good news’.

But the figure is lower than the British regulator’s estimate, which said it may prevent 89 per cent of recipients from getting Covid-19 symptoms.  

However, Israel’s data does not prove anything about possible impacts of the UK’s controversial 12-week gap between doses. The country does not give any more than three weeks between the first and second doses, during which time protection is expected to be minimal at best – and the vaccine is not intended to prevent infection, but severe disease and death.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, today said he would expect all vaccines to be less effective in the real world than in trials. He added that Britain should look ‘very carefully’ at data during the vaccine rollout to see what effect its having.

One attendee at a government summit with business leaders on Monday claimed ministers had warned that heavy restrictions could remain until May or even June. Tory MPs have voiced concerns about ‘mission creep’, with scientists lobbying for restrictions to stay in place until more categories of the population have been given the vaccine.

In a round of interviews this morning, Home Secretary Priti Patel was asked why the slowdown in doses was happening. ‘There remains a long and difficult road ahead… this is the largest mass vaccination programme our country has ever seen,’ she told BBC Radio 4’s Today.

‘But also we are now seeing the suppliers Pfizer and AZ – the suppliers of the vaccine are upgrading their factories changing their supply chains. 

‘Of course that will inevitably have an implication in terms of the actual supply of the vaccine.

‘We will see reconfiguarion of the supply chain. I think that is inevitable because of the demand domestically and internationally.’

Ms Patel said the local variations were down to ‘NHS structures’. ‘You are going to get the variability. There is not going to be a consistent rollout programme across the country. That will be for logistical reasons, geography reasons, where these vaccine centres are.’ 

Ms Patel refused to be drawn on the exit strategy, saying: ‘This is no time to speak about the relaxation of measures and we’re not going to do that publicly yet.’ 

And in a question and answer session on Sky News, Sir Patrick struck an even more gloomy tone.

‘The advice at the moment is vaccines are not going to do the heavy lifting for us at the moment, anywhere near it,’ he said.

‘This is about, I’m afraid, the restrictive measures which we’re all living under and carrying on with those.

‘The numbers are nowhere near where they need to be at the moment, they need to come down quite a lot further – we need to make sure we stick with it.

‘You go for a walk in the park or something, life looks normal; you go for a walk in a hospital, if you work in a hospital, you will see life not looking normal at all.

‘This is a really difficult, dangerous situation we’re in, and we need to get the numbers down, so I don’t see a release of these measures as being a sensible thing to do in the short term.’

He said it was hoped that as the vaccine took effect and numbers dropped, it would be possible to start a gradual release of some of the measures.

‘But I think it’s important to recognise this is not going to be a sort of big bang, ‘great, take the lid off, everything’s fine, we can all go back to normal’.

‘This is going to be a slow release, monitoring carefully, understanding the effects.’

Confusion is mounting over the source of the issues in the vaccine rollout. The Mail was told last week that vaccine materials for 21million jabs were already in the country – easily enough to give the first dose to all those in the four most vulnerable categories.

But sources insisted today that the number of doses ready to administer was lower than that ‘by an order of magnitude’. 

Scottish Deputy First Minister John Swinney has also hit back at claims that there are more than 400,000 doses north of the border that have not been given to patients.

‘We do not have that volume of vaccine in our hands, we cannot distribute that because it has not arrived with us yet,’ he said.

‘We have had an allocation of that volume of vaccine but it has not yet arrived with us, it has got to go through the checks that are made by the principle distributor, it has then got to be physically distributed to us as a national allocation, and it has then got to be physically distributed to 1,100 locations around the country. And all of that takes time.’

The defence comes after the UK Government had what Nicola Sturgeon branded a ‘hissy fit’ when she made public the number of doses Scotland expects to receive in the coming weeks and months.

A government source said Pfizer’s supplies were already ‘very constrained’ and fears are spreading through Cabinet that they won’t hit the target.  ‘It’s going to be very very tight,’ the source told The Times. 

Soldiers set up a coronavirus vaccination centre in Glasgow today as the drive to get the most vulnerable jabs ramps up

Soldiers set up a coronavirus vaccination centre in Glasgow today as the drive to get the most vulnerable jabs ramps up

Patel reveals she pushed for border shutdown 

In a round of interviews this morning, Priti Patel was asked why the slowdown was happening

In a round of interviews this morning, Priti Patel was asked why the slowdown was happening

Priti Patel has told Tory supporters that she argued for the UK border to be shut to international visitors in March when the pandemic first emerged.

The Home Secretary has publicly defended the decision not to enact a full arrivals shutdown.

But in comments, to the Conservative Friends of India group, first reported by the Guido Fawkes blog, Ms Patel said: ‘On ”should we have closed our borders earlier”, the answer is yes. I was an advocate of closing them last March.’

In mid-March, the UK abandoned asking people to quarantine for two weeks after arriving from areas with high infection rates, such as Hubei province in China and Italy.

The decision was in contrast to many other countries, such as New Zealand, which has been widely praised for getting the pandemic under control, partly through strict quarantine measures for arrivals.

The UK Government introduced blanket quarantine restrictions in June for all international travellers, except those coming from Ireland, while ‘travel corridors’ with countries deemed to have safe levels of infection were established a month later.

Ministers this week suspended all travel corridors and introduced new rules requiring arrivals to produce a negative coronavirus test taken up to 72 hours before departure and to self-isolate for up to 10 days after entering the UK, in a move designed to prevent new strains of Covid-19 entering the UK.

Office for National Statistics data has also revealed Covid-19 deaths in care homes doubled last week to 1,260 in England. The virus now accounts for a startling 40 per cent of all deaths in England’s homes, up from just over a quarter at the end of December.

The virus was responsible for one in three deaths across the country during the first week of January — 6,057 out of 17,751.  

Mr Johnson has promised to have care homes vaccinated against the disease by the end of January but, so far, only half of residents, who were supposed to be front of the queue for jabs in December but missed out due to logistical issues with handling the Pfizer vaccine, have been immunised against the virus.  

Ms Sturgeon declared yesterday that lockdown in Scotland will be extended to mid-February despite signs cases have flattened off.

Dashing hopes of a loosening from the end of this month, the SNP leader said she was being ‘cautious’ and more evidence was needed that the outbreak was on a ‘downward trajectory’.

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Mr Johnson, however, remains optimistic he can give Britons an Easter holiday with their loved ones – even if that means meeting them outside.

A source told The Sun: ‘It’s way too soon to start talking about when, but the work is being done quietly on the how.’ 

But such hopes depend on the vaccine and another Whitehall source told the Mail that no firms dates had been laid down.  

‘The mood was very much about things happening later in the spring rather than early on,’ the source said. ‘Beyond Easter is certainly possible.

‘We don’t even know what the benchmark will be. It seems unlikely that vaccinating the over-70s will be enough.’

No10 declined to comment on a likely date for the easing of the lockdown. But the Prime Minister told the Cabinet that the scale of the pandemic remained ‘very serious’.

Backbench Tories have stepped up demands for the Government to start easing restrictions from the first week of March, when vaccinations should have helped the 15million most vulnerable people develop substantial immunity.

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘Once the most vulnerable have been vaccinated there is no justification for keeping these restrictions.’ 

In the first lockdown, senior ministers piled pressure on the PM to ease restrictions at the earliest opportunity. But a Cabinet source said Mr Johnson was under much less pressure now, adding: ‘No one in the Cabinet is talking about easing restrictions at the moment. The situation is too grave.’

No10 denied reports yesterday that the PM was at odds over the criteria for lifting restrictions with Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, who is said to want any lockdown easing to be conditional on a major fall in Covid cases and hospitalisations.

He is also said to want the lifting to be gradual so the impact of measures, such as reopening schools, can be studied before further steps are taken.

Vallance says Covid jabs should beat Kent variant – but questions remain over South African and Brazilian mutations

Sir Patrick Vallance today insisted that the current crop of Covid-19 vaccines should work against the coronavirus variant that emerged in Kent and has now become the dominant strain in England.

Offering hope that Britain’s inoculation drive won’t be in vain, No10’s chief scientific adviser claimed evidence suggests the highly-infectious variant will be susceptible to jabs and natural immunity. 

But he admitted there were still ‘question marks’ over the variants first found in South Africa and Brazil. And Sir Patrick added it was ‘quite likely’ Britons may need to get a Covid jab every winter for ‘at least a few years’. 

His comments come amid fears new variants may have mutated in a way that means they evade parts of the immune system and could reinfect Covid survivors or people who have been vaccinated. 

The vaccines being rolled out now are based on versions of the constantly-evolving virus studied a year ago, so may become less effective as more mutations occur over time.

Cambridge University microbiologist Dr Ravi Gupta yesterday told MailOnline ‘the time has come’ to start making updated vaccines to tackle common concerning mutations that have cropped up in multiple unconnected variants around the world.

Moderna said it was confident its jab will work against the England and South Africa variants and it will carry out more tests on the Brazilian one. Oxford University said it was running checks on its own jab.

Pfizer today said the it was ‘unlikely’ that the B.1.1.7 lineage — the Kent variant — will evade the vaccine. Studies of a lab-made version of the variant was neutralised by antibodies created by the jab. 

More than 4.26million people have received their first dose of a Covid vaccine through the NHS programme – one in every 16 people in the UK – which makes it one of the best covered countries in the world. 

But to hit the Government’s target of 13.9million people by February 15, which is the threshold at which officials will consider relaxing lockdown, the UK must manage 360,000 jabs per day from today onwards – 2.5million per week.

Last week it averaged 254,000 per day and hit a total 1.77million. The daily requirement will increase for every day that it isn’t hit. 

In other coronavirus vaccine developments today, angry patients claimed that a super-efficient GP surgery that was vaccinating 128 people-an-hour had to slow down after its supplies were capped.

Mendip Vale Medical Group, which has 65,000 patients on its books, has been administering Covid-19 vaccines since mid-December.

Staff dedicated 20 rooms to vaccinate patients and were inoculating 128 people-an-hour, 12 hours-a-day, and planned to treat around 1,000 people a day going forward.

But the practice, in Langford, Somerset, is now having its vaccine capacity restricted by the local health authorities – leaving one local patient group baffled the decision.

The ‘outraged’ patient participation group (PPG) has lodged a formal complaint to the Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire (BNSSG) Care Commissioning Group, which manages vaccine supplies.

GP surgery dishing out 128 jabs an hour ‘had to slow down after supplies were capped’

Angry patients claimed that a super-efficient GP surgery that was vaccinating 128 people-an-hour had to slow down after its supplies were capped.

Mendip Vale Medical Group, which has 65,000 patients on its books, has been administering Covid-19 vaccines since mid-December.

Staff dedicated 20 rooms to vaccinate patients and were inoculating 128 people-an-hour, 12 hours-a-day, and planned to treat around 1,000 people a day going forward.

But the practice, in Langford, Somerset, is now having its vaccine capacity restricted by the local health authorities – leaving one local patient group baffled the decision.

The ‘outraged’ patient participation group (PPG) has lodged a formal complaint to the Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire (BNSSG) Care Commissioning Group, which manages vaccine supplies.

But PPG chairman Geoff Matthews today confirmed the complaint is currently on hold, after the CCG increased vaccine capacity at Mendip Vale to around 2,000 per week. 

But PPG chairman Geoff Matthews today confirmed the complaint is currently on hold, after the CCG increased vaccine capacity at Mendip Vale to around 2,000 per week. 

Meanwhile, it has emerged that Ms Patel told Tory supporters that she argued for the UK border to be shut to international visitors in March when the pandemic first emerged.

The comments, to the Conservative Friends of India group, are contrary to her public defence of the Government’s decision not to enact a full arrivals shutdown.

In comments first reported by political website Guido Fawkes, Ms Patel said: ‘On ‘should we have closed our borders earlier’, the answer is yes. I was an advocate of closing them last March.’

In mid-March, the UK abandoned asking people to quarantine for two weeks after arriving from areas with high infection rates, such as Hubei province in China and Italy.

The decision was in contrast to many other countries, such as New Zealand, which has been widely praised for getting the pandemic under control, partly through strict quarantine measures for arrivals.

The UK Government introduced blanket quarantine restrictions in June for all international travellers, except those coming from Ireland, while ‘travel corridors’ with countries deemed to have safe levels of infection were established a month later.

Ministers this week suspended all travel corridors and introduced new rules requiring arrivals to produce a negative coronavirus test taken up to 72 hours before departure and to self-isolate for up to 10 days after entering the UK, in a move designed to prevent new strains of Covid-19 entering the UK.

It comes after the Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance today insisted that the current crop of Covid-19 vaccines should work against the coronavirus variant that emerged in Kent and has now become the dominant strain in England.

Offering hope that Britain’s inoculation drive won’t be in vain, No10’s chief scientific adviser claimed evidence suggests the highly-infectious variant will be susceptible to jabs and natural immunity.

But he admitted there were still ‘question marks’ over the variants first found in South Africa and Brazil. And Sir Patrick added it was ‘quite likely’ Britons may need to get a Covid jab every winter for ‘at least a few years’.

His comments come amid fears new variants may have mutated in a way that means they evade parts of the immune system and could reinfect Covid survivors or people who have been vaccinated.

The vaccines being rolled out now are based on versions of the constantly-evolving virus studied a year ago, so may become less effective as more mutations occur over time.

Cambridge University microbiologist Dr Ravi Gupta yesterday told MailOnline ‘the time has come’ to start making updated vaccines to tackle common concerning mutations that have cropped up in multiple unconnected variants around the world.

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Moderna said it was confident its jab will work against the England and South Africa variants and it will carry out more tests on the Brazilian one. Oxford University said it was running checks on its own jab.

Pfizer today said the it was ‘unlikely’ that the B.1.1.7 lineage — the Kent variant — will evade the vaccine. Studies of a lab-made version of the variant was neutralised by antibodies created by the jab.

The drug giant’s results come after another variation of the coronavirus was found in Germany, although scientists don’t yet know if it is any more infectious or deadly.

And there are signs the English variant of the virus has been spreading in the US for two months already, with it likely to have been in California as early as November 6.

The major concerns about the Kent, South Africa and Brazil variants of the virus are that they are now widespread and significantly different to earlier versions, to which many people have developed immunity.

Kent’s variant is the one least likely to drive down the efficacy of a vaccine because it is missing a mutation found on the other two.

The Brazilian and South African variants share a mutation called E484K, which is thought to change the shape of the spike protein on the outside of the virus so much that immune system antibodies in many people are unable to recognise it.

Researchers have not yet done tests on how the immune system of someone who has had a Covid vaccine would respond to those versions of the virus.

When asked about variants and vaccines in a television Q&A on Sky News this morning, Sir Patrick said: ‘On the variant that was first identified in Kent, I think we’re increasingly of the view that that variant will be susceptible to the vaccine and to previous immunity.

‘The studies are all pointing in that direction so I think that’s good in terms of vaccine effect.

‘For some of the others that are popping up around the world – and they will continue to pop up – we’ve still got some question marks as to how effective a vaccine will be.

‘Those studies need to be continued and I think it’s likely that we will need to have modified vaccines in due course.’

Patrick Vallance warns Covid jabs may be needed EVERY YEAR as he warns he will continue to push ‘harder rules’ because there is an ‘upswing’ when measures are lifted too quickly

Britons may need to be vaccinated against Covid every year to keep the disease at bay, Sir Patrick Vallance warned today.

No10’s chief scientific adviser delivered the warning today, saying a regular flu-style rollout may be required to ‘keep on top’ of the virus for the next few years.

Scientists say that mutations on the spike protein — which disease-fighting proteins called antibodies target to stop pathogens triggering an infection — could allow the virus to evade jabs.

Covid vaccines are likely to cost Number 10 upwards of £1billion this year alone, with health bosses understood to have signed a deal in the region of £600million to get hold of 40million doses from Pfizer.

There were concerns the highly-infectious Kent variant — which sent swathes of England into tighter measures days before Christmas — was able to dodge Covid-19 antibodies.

But Sir Patrick said studies have now suggested this is not the case, although there are still ‘some question marks’ over other strains including the South African one.

The current crop of jabs approved for use in Britain are based on versions of the constantly-evolving virus studied a year ago, so may become less effective as more mutations happen over time.

But vaccine technology allows the jabs to be tweaked in weeks, meaning boosted versions protecting against new strains can be rapidly made and dished out.

Sir Patrick added that he would continue to push for tougher curbs if needed, saying Britain’s experience of the pandemic has shown going too lightly can easily lead to a resurgence in the virus.

Some 4.6million Britons have received their first dose so far, as the Government aims to get 14million of the most vulnerable vaccinated by mid-February.

Sir Patrick Vallance told Sky News it was likely regular vaccinations against Covid-19 could be needed to keep the virus at bay

Sir Patrick Vallance told Sky News it was likely regular vaccinations against Covid-19 could be needed to keep the virus at bay

SOME CORONAVIRUS RESTRICTIONS COULD STILL BE IN PLACE NEXT WINTER, TOP ADVISER WARNS

Coronavirus restrictions could still be in place next winter despite mass roll out of the vaccine, Sir Patrick Vallance has warned.

Although England’s third lockdown could be gradually lifted from March, top advisers say, they add some measures – such as social distancing and face masks – could remain in place into next year.

The chief scientific officer told Sky News today that despite it being likely the UK would be in a ‘better’ position by next winter, he didn’t think Britons could assume all measures would be lifted.

‘It’s more likely to be making sure that we wear face masks in certain places, making sure that we keep up with hand washing, making sure that we’re sensible about the way in which we interact with people in indoor environment’s,’ he said.

‘That’s the sort of thing you might anticipate.

‘But this virus has taken us by surprise time and time again, and we just don’t know.’

He added: ‘I’d be very surprised if we go in year-on-year needing to do things more than that but this coming winter I think we need to wait and see how far we get on with the current reduction in numbers that needs to occur.’

Speaking to Sky News, Sir Patrick said: ‘I think it’s quite likely that we are going to need regular vaccination, at least for a few years.

‘And I think it’s quite likely those vaccines may need to change a bit as they do for flu every year.’

But he added that it was not yet certain whether annual vaccinations would be taking place.

‘We don’t know yet,’ he said. ‘But that will be planned in the way it is planned for flu as well.

‘This virus has taken us by surprise time and time again and we just don’t know.’

There are fears mutant strains of the virus could get around immunity triggered by vaccines, although a variant with this ability hasn’t been identified.

Sir Patrick told Sky the Government’s scientists are now ‘increasingly of the view’ that the Kent variant ‘will be susceptible to the vaccine and to previous immunity’.

‘The studies are all pointing in that direction so I think that’s good in terms of vaccine effect,’ he said.

‘[But] for some of the others that are popping up around the world – and they will continue to pop up — we’ve still got some question marks as to how effective a vaccine will be.’

Boris Johnson imposed demands for everyone arriving in the UK from abroad to have tested negative for coronavirus and quarantine this week, in an attempt to lock out any new variants.

Sir Patrick said he was pushing ministers for a harder approach against the virus, because their experience since March showed that looser measures easily allowed the virus to resurge.

‘I think there is a very simple series of recommendations which I’ve been pushing continuously and I’ll continue to do so, which is the lesson is: go earlier than you think you want to, go a bit harder than you think you want to, and go a bit broader than you think you want to, in terms of applying the restrictions.

‘I’m afraid that’s a grim message but that is what the evidence says – you’ve got to go hard, early and broader if you’re going to get on top of this. Waiting and watching simply doesn’t work.’

It comes as the British Medical Association (BMA) criticised the Government over a lack of transparency around vaccine supply which is impacting the speed at which jabs are rolled out.

GP committee chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said the past few weeks ‘has seen an enormous effort on the part of GPs and other healthcare workers to roll out the vaccination to as many people as possible’.

More than four million Britons have been vaccinated against the virus so far, as the Government tries to inoculate 14million of the most vulnerable by mid-February

More than four million Britons have been vaccinated against the virus so far, as the Government tries to inoculate 14million of the most vulnerable by mid-February

But he added: ‘Unfortunately, we are hearing of supply issues which are impacting the speed of the rollout of the vaccine.

‘Despite having the staff and resources available, some GP-led sites are not able to vaccinate patients at the rate at which they could if they had continued access to the vaccine.

‘As well as accelerating the delivery of supplies to ready and willing sites across the country, the Government needs to be honest both with the public and practices about what supplies are available.’ 



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