Britain has recorded a further 10,972 Covid cases today – down 31 per cent on last Sunday.
Today’s death toll of 258 has also decreased week-on-week, with the figure standing at 30 per cent smaller than the 373 recorded last Sunday.
Today also saw the UK hit a landmark 15million people vaccinated – enough to have covered everyone in the four most vulnerable groups.
And the Government’s policy of delaying second jabs is ‘paying off’, according to leading scientists, as data reveals single doses are providing 67 per cent protection against infection.
Today’s drop in cases and deaths – alongside the positive vaccination news – will no-doubt be a boost for Boris Johnson, who is set to announce his plans to bring the country out of its third draconian lockdown later this month.
It follows massive pressure from Tory MPs who fear huge collateral damage is being done to the country and economy.
Primary and secondary schools are set to reopen from March 8, while picnics in the park will be back on the agenda and ‘al fresco’ meet-ups in pubs allowed from April, it was claimed today.
In other coronavirus developments today:
- Mr Raab left the government scrambling to head off another row as he suggested ‘vaccine passports’ could be needed to go to the supermarket in the UK;
- Former Prime Minister Tony Blair reiterated his calls for a global coronavirus vaccine passport scheme;
- Epidemiologist professor Tim Spector said there is a case for regions of the country with lower infection rates to unlock more quickly;
- Pfizer has suggest that it does not need to change its vaccine as it is effective against all current known coronavirus variants;
- There were claims that some care home bosses are threatening staff who refuse to have the jab with the sack;
- Health Secretary Matt Hancock clashed with senior Tory Sir Charles Walker over the ten-year jail terms facing those who flout new quarantine rules;
- AstraZeneca said it would expand trials of its Oxford vaccine to children as young as six.
The total given jabs passed the 15 million mark today with ministers praising the ‘amazing’ effort over just 10 weeks.
The PM hailed the ‘extraordinary feat’, although he stressed no-one was ‘resting on their laurels’ and the focus was now on reaching the top nine categories – around 32million people – by the end of April.
‘Over two months this country has achieved an extraordinary feat, administering a total of 15 million jabs into the arms of the most vulnerable people in the country,’ Mr Johnson said in a video posted on his Twitter feed.
He added: ‘It has been a truly national, UK-wide effort. We have done it together.’
The number was crested after England administers another 429,497 first doses in 24 hours, plus 2,186 second doses. Scotland added 50,601, while Wales gave 22,555. Even without the daily figure for Northern Ireland it means 15,058,859 people in the UK have now received vaccines.
Boris Johnson hailed the ‘extraordinary feat’ of vaccinating 15million people today, although he stressed no-one was ‘resting on their laurels’ and the focus was now on reaching the top nine categories by the end of April
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said the focus was now on reaching the top nine categories by the end of April
What are the UK priority groups for vaccinations?
1. Residents in a care home for older adults and staff working in care homes for older adults
2. All those 80 years of age and over and frontline health and social care workers
3. All those 75 years of age and over
4. All those 70 years of age and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals (not including pregnant women and those under 16 years of age)
5. All those 65 years of age and over
6. Adults aged 16 to 65 years in an at-risk group
7. All those 60 years of age and over
8. All those 55 years of age and over
9. All those 50 years of age and over
10. Rest of the population
The breakthrough will heap pressure on Mr Johnson to bring forward the timetable for relaxing the restrictions that Conservatives fear are doing huge collateral damage.
The Coronavirus Research Group, which includes around 70 MPs, is calling for coronavirus restrictions to be lifted entirely by May when the top nine categories should be covered.
And today, King’s College London epidemiology Professor Tim Spector said the Government’s policy of delaying second jabs is ‘paying off’ and restrictions should be able to begin to be reduced within weeks.
He said that Covid-19 cases had dropped by 80 per cent since the start of January, with hospital admissions reducing by 60 per cent. There are also 50 per cent fewer people in hospital with the virus.
Prof Spector said this showed the crucial R rate had been ‘persistently’ below one since the new year.
Prof Spector explained that a single vaccine was providing 46 per cent protection after two weeks and 67 per cent after three weeks.
He told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: ‘It’s still preliminary, we are still analysing the results.
‘It’s looking very promising and the Government’s approach of delaying the second shot in order to get more people vaccinated looks like it’s paying off.’
He continued: ‘It currently means we are in a similar state as we were in October and if we look at the trajectory at where we are going, in a couple of weeks we are going to be where we were in May or June.
‘There will be a prevalence of symptomatic cases of less then one in 500 which in my view, we should be able to reduce some of the restrictions, and I am particularly concerned we get kids back to school for as long as possible because of the known long-term negative effects of that.’
Prof Spector said that he would be happy for schools in some regions, particularly rural areas, to return earlier than the proposed March 8 date and especially for younger children who pose ‘very little risk to themselves or others’.
He said that he could see face masks and other social distancing restrictions being required in some situations for the longer term.
He added: ‘It may not be compulsory but I am also an optimist that we are going to drive the levels of this virus very low.’
The current thinking in No10 is that the beleaguered hospitality industry could lift its shutters from the beginning of April.
King’s College London epidemiology Professor Tim Spector (pictured) said the Government’s policy of delaying second jabs is ‘paying off’ and restrictions should be able to begin to be reduced within weeks
Single jabs of Covid-19 vaccinations are providing 67 per cent protection against infection, data has revealed (file image)
In a break from previous rules, the 10pm curfew and the requirement to have a substantial meal with alcohol will be abandoned under the soon-to-be announced plans.
Restrictions on sports such as tennis and golf, where social distancing is easier, are likely to be eased in April.
The local ‘tiers’ system that was in place before the blanket lockdown is being ditched, with England due to move as a whole through the next phases of relaxation.
Scientists have been urging a much more cautious approach than Tories want, warning that infections remain high and the threat of variant strains emerging that can dodge vaccines is too great.
In interviews this morning, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab dismissed the CRG timeline as ‘arbitrary’.
He said ‘our priority will be schools’, but warned it is too early to be sure what will be possible as more data will come in over the next week. ‘It is absolutely right that until we change the rules we need full compliance,’ he said.
Government sources told MailOnline the ‘hope’ is that all schools can be reopened on March 8, but it will depend on the information that comes in over the next week.
Lockdown misery is set to end by Easter, with people finally free to drink in beer gardens and dine outside restaurants again. Diners are pictured above at a restaurant in Dundee, Scotland in July last year after restrictions were eased
Under Boris Johnson’s ‘roadmap’ for a steady return to normality, No 10 plans to allow the beleaguered hospitality industry to lift its shutters, most likely on Tuesday March 30 or the following day. Customers are seen enjoying a pint in Scotland last July
Confusion as Raab says vaccine passports could be needed to shop in UK
The government was facing more confusion over ‘vaccine passports’ today after Dominic Raab suggested they could be needed to get into pubs and supermarkets in the UK.
The Foreign Secretary appeared to contradict a series of other government statements as he said the idea was ‘under consideration’.
The comments risked provoking anger from Tories who are already deeply alarmed about the way the pandemic has hammered civil liberties.
Aides scrambled to clarify that Mr Raab had been responding to a ‘hypothetical’ question and while ‘vaccine passports’ are being looked at for international travel, they are ‘not being considered domestically’.
Ministers have revealed that work is under way on a system that could allow foreign travel to resume, with Spain the latest country to say it is ready to welcome Brits who have had jabs.
But the government has repeatedly said such documents will not be introduced in the UK, suggesting it would be ‘discriminatory’. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said just last week that the move is ‘not on the cards’.
In his video this afternoon, Mr Johnson urged anyone eligible for a jab who had yet to come forward to do so.
He said: ‘In England, I can now tell you we have now offered jabs to everyone in the first four priority groups, the people most likely to be severely ill with coronavirus, hitting the first target we set ourselves.’
He added: ‘We’ve still got a long way to go and there will undoubtedly be bumps in the road. But after all we’ve achieved, I know we can go forward with great confidence.’
Health Secretary Matt Hancock also welcomed the latest step forward for the vaccination programme.
‘I’m so proud of the team – we’ve hit this fantastic milestone in our battle against COVID-19. In less than 10 weeks we’ve jabbed over 15 million people across the UK,’ he said.
‘That’s one in every four adults now starting to receive protection from this dreadful disease.
‘This accomplishment is thanks to the incredible efforts of frontline NHS workers, vaccine volunteers, the armed forces and all those working in local and central government.
‘The vaccine rollout shows what our country can achieve working together.
‘There is so much more to do and I urge anyone eligible to step forward and take up their appointment. The vaccine is our route to freedom – we will beat this virus jab by jab.’
NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said reaching the number in 10 weeks was ‘a remarkable shared achievement’.
‘The NHS vaccination programme is the biggest and fastest in Europe – and in the health service’s history – and that is down to the skill, care, and downright hard work of our fantastic staff, supported by local communities, volunteers and the armed forces,’ he said.