More than 350,000 people have been vaccinated by the Pfizer/BioNTech jab in Britain, it was confirmed today, as hopes rise that Oxford University’s inoculation could be approved by the New Year.
The draconian bracket means non-essential shops will be forced to shut, and travel restrictions including a ‘stay at home’ order for Christmas Day itself – even though Mr Johnson insisted just days ago that it would be ‘inhuman’ to axe five-day festive ‘bubbles’.
The rest of England will not escape unscathed, with up to three households now only allowed to mix on Christmas Day rather than between December 23 and 27.
The Prime Minister confirmed the figure on vaccinations after he was asked for it by a member of the public during tonight’s press conference.
xBoris Johnson announced the figure at an emergency Downing Street briefing today, where the Government also confirmed London and swathes of the South East will be placed under new Tier 4 restrictions from midnight
Mike from Cheshire had asked whether the vaccination numbers could be added to the daily statistics, which currently report infections and deaths due to Covid-19.
Mr Johnson confirmed around 350,000 Britons have so-far been administered the vaccine. This is taken in two doses, the second of which is given 21 days after the first.
He added people will be kept ‘regularly updated’ about the progress of the mass inoculation scheme.
It comes as it was suggested Oxford University’s coronavirus jab will be approved shortly after Christmas, raising hopes that millions of people a week could soon be being vaccinated.
Senior Whitehall sources are said to believe that the Medicines and Healthcare product Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will authorise the vaccine on December 28 or 29.
A patient receives an injection of their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in their car at a drive-in vaccination centre in Hyde, Greater Manchester
They are waiting for the final data from the Oxford scientists, which will be provided on Monday.
An MHRA spokesman said after the reports that its review is ‘ongoing’ and did not contradict the approval timeframe.
Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt claimed on Saturday that the available doses of the Pfizer vaccine will run out in January and that another shipment is not due until March, meaning the vaccination programme could grind to a halt.
He said the Oxford vaccine would make a ‘massive difference’ because ‘the doses that we have of the Pfizer vaccine will keep us going until the end of January and I think we’re not getting another shipment until March.’
But a Pfizer spokesman responded by telling MailOnline that deliveries of their vaccine are ‘on track’ and that new shipments will arrive ‘before March’.
It had already emerged last week that it would take a decade to vaccinate all of Britain’s 30million vulnerable residents if the mammoth jab operation continues at its current speed.
The Prime Minister was tonight accused of ‘inconsistency and confusion’ after he made an extraordinary last-minute U-turn to put a third of England into a brutal new ‘Tier 4’ from midnight.
Mr Johnson told the nation he had ‘no alternative’ but to act after being presented will compelling evidence only yesterday about the devastating spread of the new strain.
Although it does not appear to be any more deadly, it is believed to be much more contagious, accounting for an incredible 60 per cent of new cases in London over the past week.
The Prime Minister confirmed the figure on vaccinations after he was asked for it by a member of the public during tonight’s press conference. Pictured: Hyde, Greater Manchester
Mike from Cheshire had asked whether the vaccination numbers could be added to the daily statistic, which currently report infections and deaths due to Covid-19. Pictured: John Schofield is injected with his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine
Mr Johnson said it could increase the crucial R rate by 0.4 and be 70 per cent more transmissible than previous versions.
‘We must act now,’ he said, appealing for the public to ‘stay local’ and ‘raise a glass for people who are not there’.
‘I know how much emotion people invest in this time of year and how important it is for grandparents to see their grandchildren and families to be together.
‘So I know how disappointing this will be. But I have said throughout this pandemic that we must and will be guided by the science.’
He added: ‘As your Prime Minister, I sincerely believe there is no alternative open to me. Without action, the evidence suggests infections would soar, hospitals would become overwhelmed and many thousands more would lose their lives.’
Chief science officer Patrick Vallance said there was no sign so far that the mutation would be able to nullify vaccines – reassuring news for around 350,000 people Mr Johnson revealed have now received their first dose.
‘This virus spreads more easily and therefore more measures are needed to keep it under control,’ he said.
He added: ‘Assume you might be infectious.’
Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said that danger was that people moving around the country would ‘seed’ the variant. ‘This is a bad moment,’ he said.
The new Tier 4 will be imposed on all existing Tier 3 areas in the South East, covering Kent, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Surrey (excluding Waverley), Gosport, Havant, Portsmouth, Rother and Hastings.
It will also apply in London, Bedford, Milton Keynes, Luton, Peterborough, Hertfordshire, and Essex – excluding Colchester, Uttlesford and Tendring.
The rules will be essentially the same as the blanket lockdown that England was under in November. Non-essential retail must close, as well as leisure facilities, and personal care such as hairdressers.
However, places of worship can stay open.
People in other Tiers will be advised not to go into the highest bracket areas, while residents of Tier 4 must not stay overnight in lower infection spots.
They will apply for at least two weeks, with the situation due to be considered at the next review point on December 30. Schools will not be affected immediately as they have broken up for Christmas – but it is not clear what will happen if the Tier 4 restrictions need to be maintained into January.
No10 has indicated that the measures will come into effect without a vote in Parliament because of the ‘incredibly fast moving’ events, and there are ‘no plans’ to recall MPs.