BORIS Johnson last night launched a major Covid vaccination blitz that will see 13.2 million Brits jabbed by February 15.
The radical plan means all those at highest risk – the over-65s and younger adults with serious health conditions – will be protected against the killer bug.
⚠️ Read our coronavirus live blog for the latest news & updates
NHS staff will also be offered the jab in the coming weeks.
The vast majority of Brits hospitalised by Covid belong to these vulnerable groups.
Reaching the new vaccination target would help slash admissions and deaths ahead of spring, and prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed.
The ambitious plans would then allow the PM to start lifting strict lockdown rules later next month.
Easing of measures could see many schools re-opening after the February half-term.
But it would require the NHS to jab nearly 2 million Brits a week – eight times as many as the current rate.
The UK yesterday became the first nation to immunise patients using the Oxford vaccine after receiving an initial 530,000 doses.
More than a million Brits have already received the Pfizer vaccine after it was approved early last month.
Speaking at the Downing Street briefing, Mr Johnson pledged more than 13 million high risk adults will get their first Covid jab by February 15.
He said: “I can share with you tonight the NHS’s realistic expectations for the vaccination programme in the coming weeks.
HOPE THAT LOCKDOWNS WILL SOON END
“By the middle of February, if things go well and with a fair wind in our sails, we expect to have offered the first vaccine dose to everyone in the four top priority groups identified by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
“That means vaccinating all residents in a care home for older adults and their carers, everyone over 70, all frontline health and social care workers and everyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable.”
Resurrecting the ‘Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives slogan’, the Prime Minister also told the nation:
- People can only meet up for outside exercise with one other person from another household
- All outdoor team sports are banned except for elite sportsmen and kids still at school
- Playgrounds will remain open but outdoor gyms, tennis courts and golf courses will be closed once again
- Schools are set to stay shut across the nation until at least February half-term
- Nurseries, childcare centres and special schools will remain open
- Students will not be able to return to university and will be told to study remotely from their current residency until at least the middle of next month.
- GCSEs, A-Levels and some other exams are set to be cancelled – with further announcements due to come
- Pubs, restaurants, bars and most venues were already ordered to shut in every part of England apart from the Isles of Scilly last week and will remain closed for at least another month
- In a further blow to the battered industry, the new nationwide curbs will ban takeaway pints being served amid fears over punters clustering outside pubs. Food and non-alcohol takeaways will continue to be permitted
- In a boost for lonely Brits, support bubbles will remain in place – allowing single households to mix indoors with one other household
Mr Johnson added: “If we succeed in vaccinating all those groups, we will have removed huge numbers of people from the path of the virus.
“Of course, that will eventually enable us to lift many of the restrictions we have endured for so long.”
With every jab that goes into our arms, we are tilting the odds against Covid and in favour of the British people
He added: “The weeks ahead will be the hardest yet but I really do believe we are entering the last phase of the struggle.
“With every jab that goes into our arms, we are tilting the odds against Covid and in favour of the British people.
“Thanks to the miracle of science, not only is the end in sight, but we know exactly how we will get there.
“But for now, I’m afraid once again you must stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.”
Leading scientists last night welcomed plans to vaccinate vulnerable Brits at record speed.
Prof Paul Hunter, from the University of East Anglia, said: “It is fantastic news that the Government is accelerating the rollout of the Covid vaccines.
“The faster we get the jab into people’s arms, the quicker we will ease pressure on the NHS, reduce deaths and reopen society.
“Targeting those groups at highest risk of being hospitalised by the virus will have the biggest impact.
“We now need to get all hands to the pump to ensure this target is achieved.
“Regulators have approved two safe and effective vaccines and they should now be used as quickly as possible.”
Dr Bharat Pankhania, from the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “A more ambitious vaccination target is very welcome.
“It provides a boost to the mood of the nation and signals to the rest of the world that Britain is serious about returning to normal.
“We must now go like a rocket to get the vaccine to as many Brits as possible, as quickly as possible – ideally offering it 24/7.
“A vaccine blitz will reduce pressure on the NHS and take us closer to normality.
“But people must still continue to observe social distancing rules for now.”
Millions of Oxford jabs are now awaiting sign off as Britain prepares to massively “ramp up” Covid vaccination.
The NHS received an initial 530,000 doses yesterday, with a further three million jabs bottled and waiting final safety checks.
The UK also has a further four million doses of the Pfizer vaccine – but they are harder to dole out as they must be stored at -70c.
A Government source told The Sun: “We now have a regular and steady supply of both vaccines. From mid-January we will be in a position to give out millions of jabs a week.”
Yesterday a blame game started after Mr Johnson said red tape was currently slowing down the vaccination programme.
The PM said the issue was not supply or staff, but waiting for batches of the Oxford jabs to be quality tested by the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control.
He explained: “We have the capacity, the issue is to do with supply of the vaccine.
“Each batch needs to be properly approved and quality controlled.
Lockdown at a glance
- From tonight, stay at home until mid-February (all of England)
- Law to come in when regulations will be laid tomorrow
- All schools shut until Feb half term
- Nurseries and special schools to stay open
- Kids continue to see both parents if they are divorced
- All shielders should stay home as in Tier 4
- Non essential retail to shut if they haven’t already
- No takeaway alcohol
- Police can fine people up to £200 for breaking rules as before – or £10,000 to businesses and for hosing gatherings
- Weddings can take place as per Tier 4 – only if people are dying – and only funerals in small numbers
- Students must not return to university until middle of Feb and stay put if they can
- Outdoor sports venues to close but playgrounds remain open
- People can ONLY exercise with 1 other person – no meeting them on bench for a cuppa
- Support and childcare bubbles to continue
- Only travel abroad if it’s essential
- School meal vouchers will continue in some form but Gov ironing out details
- Kids’ sport cancelled unless through school
“That will ramp up in the weeks ahead.”
But the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) says every batch of vaccine has to be individually inspected and quality controlled when it reaches the UK before being injected into Brits’ arms.
Dr June Raine, chief of the MHRA, insisted delays were because of supply issues.
She said: ‘It’s a supply chain that goes right back from the manufacturer, right through to MHRA, and then on to the clinical bedside or where the vaccines are delivered, so we are a step on the road but our capacity is there, I’m very clear about that.
“I was really proud last Wednesday when we approved the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, that we had approved the first batch the night before.
“We are that nimble and that quick.’
Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director of NHS England, said: “If we get two million per week, our aim is to get two million into people’s arms a week.”
He said the vaccine will be delivered by around 100 hospital hubs and 700 community sites, including GP practices.
There are plans to expand the programme further as more supplies become available.
Asked when the NHS will be able to provide two million vaccines per week, Prof Powis said: “I would hope certainly this month we’ll be able to get up to that sort of number but this is dependent upon supply.
“This is the new vaccine, supplies are coming in as we speak but they come in batch by batch, but we’ll be delivering it as soon as we get it.”
England is the last of the four nations to go into lockdown, with Northern Ireland and Wales shut down after Christmas.
Nicola Sturgeon earlier announced a full lockdown in Scotland to last all of January, starting from midnight tonight.
It comes amid the dangerous and rapid spread of the new virus variant, which ministers were first alerted to on December 11.
Thousands of people are becoming infected each day after mingling at Christmas, with the addition of the mutated strain which can spread faster and easier.
Mr Hancock said in a round of interviews this morning the virus was “much, much harder” to control, and that it only takes a small amount of the new strain to cause infection.
This afternoon the Covid-19 alert level was raised to five for the first time – the highest setting, Government sources said.
This means the NHS is at risk of being “overwhelmed”, with nurses and doctors already stretched thin and breaching staff to patient ratios.
Dr Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director for Public Health England (PHE), said: “The continuous rise in cases and deaths should be a bitter warning for us all. We must not forget the basics – the lives of our friends and family depend on it.
“Keep your distance from others, wash your hands and wear a mask. This virus will transmit wherever you let your guard down.”
The latest grim tally for coronavirus infections revealed 58,784 new cases have been diagnosed in 24 hours – 42 per cent higher than last Monday, which was a bank holiday.
It’s the highest ever increase in one day, and the seventh day running cases have surpassed 50,000.
However, the figures are not possible to compare to the spring when there was significantly less testing.
A No 10 spokesman said earlier today: “The spread of the new variant of Covid-19 has led to rapidly escalating case numbers across the country.
“The Prime Minister is clear that further steps must now be taken to arrest this rise and to protect the NHS and save lives.”