MORE than one million people currently have Covid – as cases soared 70 per cent in a week across the UK, Boris Johnson has tonight announced.
The Prime Minister said that the new variant of Covid had left the Government with “no choice” but to impose another national lockdown.
⚠️ Read our coronavirus live blog for the latest news & updates
But he urged that persevering with the restrictions would allow the vaccines to be rolled out to the most vulnerable by mid-February.
Mr Johnson told a Downing Street press conference that more than 1.3 million Brits have now been vaccinated against Covid.
It came as:
He referred to new official figures from the Office for National Statistics today, which highlight the worrying scale of the pandemic in the UK.
An estimated 1 in 50 people in private households in England had Covid between December 27 and January 2 – or around 2.06 per cent of the population.
It represents a rise from 800,900 people, or one in 70, who were estimated to have Covid-19 in the period December 17 to 23.
Separate figures showed that Covid cases in the UK today jumped by 60,916 in the highest ever rise.
Deaths rose by 830 – bringing the total to 76,305 – in the largest daily death toll since December 30 when 916 tragically lost their lives.
The total number of cases now stands at 2,774,479 after infections passed 50,000 for the eighth day in a row.
Speaking at No10, the PM said: “Across this entire country today there are people making another huge sacrifice.
“Millions of people working from home, teachers and pupils coping with onloine learning, businesses who have borne the brunt of successive lockdowns.
“And of course, the amazing staff of our NHS and our care workers who are grappling with a new variant of coronavirus.
“I believe that when everybody looks at the position, people understand overwhelmingly that we have no choice.
“When the Office for National Statistics is telling us more than two per cent of the population have Covid – that’s over one million people in England.
“And when today we have reported another 60,000 new cases, and when the number of patients in hospitals in England is 40 per cent higher than at the first peak in April.
“I think obviously everybody wants to be sure we in government are using every second of this lockdown to put that invisible shield around the elderly and vulnerable in the form of vaccination so to begin to bring this crisis to an end.”
He revealed that more than 1.3 million people have been vaccinated against Covid-19 across the UK.
Mr Johnson said the figures includes 650,000 people over the age of 80, which was 23 per cent of all the over 80s in England.
He was flanked at the briefing by his two top experts – Professor Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, and Sir Patrick Vallance, the country’s Chief Scientific Adviser.
Taking the nation through the latest data slides, Prof Whitty warned that new Covid cases had risen by 70 per cent in just a week.
“In the two weeks to December 30, the case rate increased by 70 per cent,” he said.
Pointing to a heat map showing the transmission of the virus, he added: “Across the whole of the UK there has been a steady increase in the rates.”
He then turned to the latest figures from the ONS which the PM had referenced, showing that 1 in 50 have Covid in England – which is even higher in some parts of the country.
Prof Whitty explained it is done on a random sampling basis and is a “good estimate of the population” but the figure is “really quite a large number indeed”.
Turning to data on the new Covid variant, Prof Whitty said that it is spreading fastest in the East of England, London and the South East – bu tit is now “taking off” in other areas as well.
“It’s really clear that this new variant has been rising in all parts of the country, and what we’ve seen is that the bits of the country that had some of the had lower rates and previously controlled things – particularly in the North East and North West – the rate of increase has been higher than some of the southern areas which have very high rates already.
“This is inevitably translated into the number of new patients coming into hospital.
“You don’t need any modelling to see what way hospitalised patients with Covid is going – this is going up very rapidly, and we are of course still int he middle of winter.”
STAY AT HOME
Prof Whitty warned that the risk is “extraordinarily high” if people do not take the stay at home message seriously, owing to the new variant as well as winter.
He said the risk level will gradually decrease over time with measures being “lifted by degrees, possibly at different rates in different parts of the country, we’ll have to see”.
“We’ll then get over time to a point where people say this level of risk is something society is prepared to tolerate and lift right down to almost no restrictions at all,” he added.
“We might have to bring in a few in the next winter for example, that’s possible, because winter will benefit the virus.”
He also said it was important to follow the recommendations on vaccine ordering by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, despite pressure for teachers to be given greater priority.
“The reason for that is that that ordering means that we will have the maximum impact on the disease because the people that are by far the highest risk of dying will be vaccinated first,” he explained.
Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said it was possible the South African coronavirus variant may have some impact on vaccine effectiveness but is unlikely to “abolish” their effect.
He told the press conference that a possible change in the virus shape in the variant “theoretically gives it a bit more risk of not being recognised” by the immune system.
Sir Patrick said there was “nothing yet to suggest that’s the case” and that “the most likely thing is that this wouldn’t abolish vaccine effect” though it “may have some overall effect on efficacy but we don’t know”.
Yvonne Doyle, medical director for Public Health England, said: “The rapid rise in cases is highly concerning and will sadly mean yet more pressure on our health services in the depths of winter.
“That is why if we can, we must stay at home, reduce contacts and do everything possible to break the spread of this virus.
“It is by no means easy, but now more than ever we must all do our part to protect the NHS and save lives.”
Mr Johnson announced stringent new controls in a televised address on Monday – including closing schools to most pupils – in an attempt to prevent the NHS being overwhelmed by a surge in new infections.
The Prime Minister also raised the prospect that the vaccination programme being rolled out across the country could enable restrictions to be progressively eased from mid-February.
Elsewhere in the UK, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon imposed a lockdown on Scotland for the rest of January, with a legal requirement to stay at home and schools closed to most pupils until February.
Schools and colleges in Wales will also remain closed until at least January 18 and move to online learning, while in Northern Ireland – which is already under a six-week lockdown – “stay at home” restrictions will be brought back into law and a period of remote learning for schoolchildren will be extended.
The Stormont Executive is meeting on Tuesday to confirm details of the plan, which could run beyond January.