Tory MPs demand Boris Johnson gives 'road map' out of lockdown

Infections drop AGAIN as UK records 37,535 more Covid cases and 599 deaths and vaccinations top 4million amid Tory demands for a road map out of lockdown – but Boris warns there won’t be a plan for easing curbs until FEBRUARY 15

  • Around 4.6million people in their 70s will receive letters inviting them to receive vaccinations from today
  • A further million ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ people will also be invited in the latest stage of the rollout
  • Half of people aged over 80 in England have been vaccinated so far with progress ahead of expectations 
  • Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi says that lockdown could ‘gradually lift’ from March if pace keeps up 

Boris Johnson today defied fresh demands from Tory MPs for a ‘road map’ out of lockdown today as coronavirus infections tumbled again.

The PM is under pressure to say how and when the brutal restrictions in England will ease after the UK recorded another 37,535 cases – down a fifth from last Monday.

Although deaths rose again to 599 there are increasing signs that the curve is flattening, as it lags weeks behind the new infections. 

Conservatives this evening underlined calls from former chief whip Mark Harper, who heads the CRG group of lockdown-sceptics, to say what will happen when the government has vaccinated the four most vulnerable groups – meant to happen by mid-February. The number of people receiving their first jab topped four million today.

The deputy chair of the group, Steve Baker said: ‘We locked down the country and shut down our schools on the basis of a forecast, so why can’t we open it up on the basis of one too? It is not sustainable to leave the public and British businesses languishing any longer.

‘Businesses and individuals desperately need hope and the opportunity to plan our recovery, that’s why we need to know our road to recovery as soon as possible.’

Another Tory backbencher told MailOnline the government should lay out its plans even if it is like ‘snakes and ladders’ and the arrangements later have to change. 

However, Mr Johnson poured cold water on the idea this afternoon, insisting that it will not be possible to set out the route for unwinding restrictions until February 15.

Touring the Oxford Biomedica vaccine plant, the PM also warned when the loosening does come it will not be an ‘open sesame’ moment.

‘I understand completely that people want to get back to normal as fast as we possibly can. It does depend on things going well,’ he said.

‘It depends on the vaccination programme going well, it depends on there being no new variants that throw our plans out and we have to mitigate against, and it depends on everybody, all of us, remembering that we’re not out of the woods yet.’

He said: ‘We’re going as fast as we can but I stress we can do everything we can to open up but when we come to February 15, and the moment when we have to take stock of what we’ve achieved, that’s the time to look at where the virus is, the extent of the infection and the success that we’ve had.

‘It’s only really then that we can talk about the way ahead and what steps we can take to relax.

‘I’m afraid I’ve got to warn people it will be gradual, you can’t just open up in a great open sesame, in a great bang, because I’m afraid the situation is still pretty precarious.’

The wrangling came as ministers face a backlash over a vaccination ‘postcode lottery’, with millions of 70-somethings being offered a jab — but only in areas where the ‘majority’ of over-80s have had it already.

Nearly 5million people aged between 70 and 80 are being invited to receive their first dose, with some in Whitehall suggesting the rollout is going so well that the wider adult population could be covered by June rather than September.

However, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said people in their 70s will only be offered jabs in areas where the ‘majority’ of over-80s have already had their first shot. That could mean people in areas such as London and Suffolk, where progress has been slower, will have to wait longer.  

NHS staff administer the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine at the Totally Wicked Stadium, home of St Helens rugby club, one of the new mass vaccination centres opened today

John Mason, 82, receiving a Covid-19 vaccination from nurse Anie Santillan in the crypt of Blackburn Cathedral today

Boris Johnson was shown the vaccine quality control systems on a visit to Oxford Biomedica in Oxfordshire today

The Prime Minister toured a warehouse at the vaccine manufacturing facility in Oxfordshire today

Covid test chaos at airports: UK-bound passengers are blocked from boarding in US 

Several passengers have been refused permission to fly to Britain from the US today after their negative Covid results were ‘not sufficient’ because they were lateral flow tests – despite the Government insisting they should be accepted.

There was also chaos for thousands arriving at Heathrow Airport as they were forced to wait for 90 minutes in ‘chaotic’ queues after all Britain’s travel corridors were closed for the next four weeks from 4am this morning.

Hannah Holland, 23, from Sheffield, was left in tears after she was barred from the American Airlines (AA) service from Philadelphia via Chicago’s O’Hare airport due to land at London Heathrow this morning.

She had a certificate proving a negative antigen lateral flow Covid test taken within 72 hours of departure – but AA staff at check in said it was not valid for travel to the UK despite being one of the types of tests approved by the UK government.

Miss Holland was left sobbing and was not the only person denied permission to fly, according to The Independent. She said: ‘It was the easiest thing in the world until I got to Chicago. It was only then that one attendant looked at my paper and said: ‘That’s not sufficient, you’re not getting on this flight’. She kind of threw this list of Chicago testing centres to me and was like, ‘Yeah, have a look at that, goodbye’.’

On another turbulent day of developments in the coronavirus crisis:

  • The Covid-19 mass vaccine programme will not have an impact on hospital admissions or death rates until ‘well into February’, national medical director for NHS England Stephen Powis warned today; 
  • Ministers are facing a major Tory revolt over whether to extend the £20 a week uplift to Universal Credit during pandemic; 
  • First Minister Mark Drakeford has defended the slower rollout of the vaccination programme in Wales – saying the Pfizer vaccine could not be used all at once; 
  • Health Secretary Matt Hancock will take a Downing Street press conference at 5pm this evening; 
  • NHS figures revealed one in six Covid-19 patients in English NHS hospitals arrived without the virus but were infected there since September;
  • Another 671 deaths were recorded, the highest number for any Sunday of the pandemic so far, along with 38,598 new cases; 
  • Ex-Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption sparked a row after telling stage 4 bowel cancer sufferer Deborah James on TV that her life was ‘less valuable’ than other people’s;
  • All travellers arriving in Britain face being forced to quarantine in hotels under plans to further lock down the country’s borders.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph yesterday, Mr Harper set out CRG demands for the PM to publish a draft plan this week setting out how curbs will be lifted.

The Government is due to conduct its first formal review of lockdown on February 15 and Mr Harper said ministers could at that point firm up the proposals ahead of an easing of rules in March.

He said: ‘The top four at-risk groups, which the Government aims to have given a first dose by Feb 15, will have got the maximum immunity from that within three weeks – by March 8.

‘That has got to be the point at which we start to lift restrictions in a way proportionate to the reduction of risk.’

Mr Harper said that ‘nobody is expecting nightclub doors to be flung open on March 8’ because it is ‘obvious that not every restriction can be lifted straight away’.

He pointed to Mr Johnson’s previous suggestion that there will be a ‘gradual unwrapping’ of lockdown and said he agreed that will be the best approach to take.

‘People need hope and businesses need a plan in order to survive, especially those in the hospitality, tourism and leisure sectors,’ he said.

‘That’s why this week, we need a draft plan for the progressive lifting of restrictions from March 8 so that the public, businesses and scientists can use it as the basis for a sensible debate, as the Prime Minister suggested on Friday.

‘That will allow a definitive plan to be published ahead of Feb 15.’

Mr Baker said tonight: ‘Just like the disease, lockdowns and restrictions cause immense harm – to people’s health, their livelihoods and to our children’s life chances. So it’s a relief to hear that once the top four groups have been vaccinated and immunised by 8 March at the latest, Government will start easing the restrictions.

‘It’s important that we lift restrictions in a way that is proportionate and safe. The Health Secretary has told us that the vast majority of hospitalisations and death caused by Covid will be protected against by 8 March, so this clearly implies that we should be removing the vast majority of restrictions.

‘It is crucial that our response to Covid is proportionate at all times to the harm the disease is capable of causing – which by 8 March should, thankfully, be hugely diminished if we hit the 15 February vaccination rollout target.’

NHS data shows the North East and Yorkshire made most headway in the first month of vaccinations, reaching 44 per cent of all over-80s by January 10 — the most recent day figures are available for. This was almost twice as fast as in the East of England and London, which only managed to immunise 27.9 per cent and 29.5 per cent of its most elderly residents, respectively. NHS bosses do not publish a daily regional breakdown of how many over-80s have had a jab, meaning the true picture is currently a mystery. 

But the situation is mired in confusion as Mr Zahawi suggested a ‘majority’ means 90 per cent of the highest age bracket — whereas Downing Street pointed to more than half. 

Meanwhile, the eligibility is being expanded despite vaccines not yet having been distributed to all care homes. Most residents and carers have already had their first shot in Newcastle, but in rural Suffolk the programme is struggling to speed up. 

The PM defended the shift on a visit to Oxfordshire this afternoon, insisting that while the four most vulnerable groups remained the ‘top priority’ it was right to widen the scheme ‘as more vaccine comes on stream’. Asked if he was concerned about a postcode lottery, Mr Johnson said: ‘I think actually the whole of the UK is going very well. And, overall, the pace of the rollout is very encouraging.’ 

Cabinet minister Therese Coffey voiced frustration today, saying ‘something isn’t right’ and it was ‘distressing and annoying’ that individuals in their 70s were being offered jabs ahead of the more elderly. 

‘Vaccinations started well in Suffolk Coastal in the last few days, but something isn’t quite right as in some places, patients aged 70+ are being contacted for vaccination ahead of 80+/90+ year olds,’ she tweeted. 

Ms Coffey later said that she had been assured ‘letters and messages will be going out today’ to all over-80s who had not already been contacted. 

Letters are being sent out in England inviting the next two priority groups for vaccinations. That includes 4.6million in their 70s plus another one million classed as ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ because they have conditions affecting the immune system, certain cancers or are organ transplant recipients. 

In London vaccinations have been trailing behind the rest of the country, with Tory MPs voicing alarm that the supplies are being based on take-up of the flu vaccine last winter, which was low in the capital.

Downing Street insists the supplies are being ‘distributed equally’.  

Some 140 people a minute are receiving a jab, putting Britain on course to vaccinate all adults by early autumn, if not before. However, one coronavirus patient is being admitted to hospital every 30 seconds. 

The Government last night announced that the first phase of the vaccine programme has made enough progress that those in their 70s and on the shielding list will be called up to get their jabs from today. 

But in some places medics still haven’t got through to the over-90s, who are in the top priority group for the Covid vaccines. Matt Hancock last week revealed GPs leading Britain’s great vaccination drive were forced to pause jabs to allow other parts of the country to catch up.

Newcastle’s care homes saw all their residents get vaccinated against Covid by seven medical teams who made their way through the city in just two weeks. 

Care home residents are top of the Government’s priority list for vaccination because they face such a high chance of dying if they catch Covid-19.

Ministers pledged to get jabs to all of them – there are around 400,000 people living in homes across the UK – by the end of January.

Hundreds of patients forced to rearrange their vaccine appointments after jabs failed to arrive

Hundreds of disappointed patients were forced to rearrange their vaccine appointments after jabs failed to arrive at a new hub.

Headcorn Aerodrome in Kent was set to begin inoculating elderly people in the Weald today.

But the delivery never turned up – leading to GPs having to break the devastating news to the most vulnerable at the eleventh hour.

A statement from Marden Medical Centre in Tonbridge said: ‘We have been informed on Sunday evening 17th January that our patients booked for the

Monday afternoon 18th will need to be rescheduled.

‘This is due to a failure of supply and is a regrettable and not infrequent issue for those organisations contracted to give the vaccines. They will be contacting the many hundred elderly patients from the Weald area directly.

‘We are very sorry for the stresses this will create. Please be patient with the team who are mostly volunteers with a problem beyond their control.

‘Marden Medical Centre has no access to the booking system so please do not contact us with queries.’

North Ridge Medical Practice in Hawkhurst also raised the alarm by saying: ‘Due to stock not being delivered on time, the clinics scheduled for Monday 18th January 2021 has to be postponed for later in the week. You will get contacted to re-schedule.

‘If you know of anyone over 80 booked for tomorrow please advise them not to attend there appointment.’

The roll-out could not start immediately because the first vaccine to be approved, Pfizer’s, had to be kept in specialist freezers so couldn’t be transported in batches smaller than 1,000 to begin with.

But since the approval of Oxford and AstraZeneca’s jab, which can be kept out of the fridge for almost an entire working day, the care home programme has sped up. 

Leader of Newcastle City Council, Nick Forbes, said: ‘In less than two weeks we have protected the most vulnerable people in our communities, providing the residents and their families with a sense of reassurance and hope they have longed for.

‘It is also relief for care home staff who have given so much during this pandemic, prioritising the health and care of the residents they work with.’

Public Health England data shows that the North East & Yorkshire – the region containing Newcastle – was furthest ahead with its vaccine programme by January 10.

This is the most recent data available and local figures are not yet available for areas smaller than regions.

It shows that the North East and Yorkshire had vaccinated 370,694 people by January 10. 

Elderly people have been the priority since the vaccine programme started and data published by Public Health England shows exactly how many of them have been vaccinated.

PHE figures show that 43.8 per cent of over-80s in the North East & Yorkshire had received a Covid vaccine by January 10, compared to 27.9 per cent in the East of England. 

In London the figure was 29.5 per cent, in the Midlands 33.4 per cent, in the South West 34.3 per cent, in the South East 34.8 per cent and in the North West 35.9 per cent.

Mr Johnson last week told MPs: ‘There are parts of the country where they have done incredibly well in, for instance, vaccinating the over-80s.

‘We are well over 50 per cent now in the North East and Yorkshire; less good in some other parts of the country.’

It is not clear whether some regions are vaccinating fewer people because they can’t get enough supplies or because they aren’t rolling them out quick enough. 

Hailing the vaccine expansion today, Mr Johnson said it ‘marks a significant milestone as we offer vaccinations to millions more people who are most at risk from Covid-19’.

The vaccination centre in Bournemouth officially opened today and is expected to give jabs to more than 9,000 a month

Cabinet minister Therese Coffey complained this morning that in her constituency some individuals in their 70s were being offered jabs ahead of the more elderly

NHS staff administering the vaccine in St Helens today as the drive to innoculate the population steps up another gear

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi (left) was bullish about the September target for covering all adults in a round of interviews this morning. NHS England medical director Stephen Powis (right) today warned that vaccines will not have an impact on the death rate until ‘well into’ February

Drakeford under fire as he blames Pfizer vaccine limits for slower rollout in Wales 

Wales’s First Minister Mark Drakeford came under fire from MPs today for deliberately slowing down the country’s Covid vaccine roll-out.

Mr Drakeford this morning admitted Wales isn’t using up all of its doses of the Pfizer jab because it wants to make them last until the end of the month.

He claimed the ‘sensible’ thing to do would be to ration supplies so the programme could work steadily until next month and so staff aren’t ‘standing around with nothing to do’ if supplies run out.

But MPs have slammed his plan as ‘dangerous’ and said the point of the programme is to protect elderly people from dying not to keep NHS staff busy.

David Jones, MP for Clwyd West said the explanation was ‘wholly incoherent’.

Mark Harper, MP for the Forest of Dean on the Welsh border, said it was ‘dangerous’ and that people needed vaccines as soon as was possible.

And Stephen Crabb, the MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire, said it was ‘deeply, deeply frustrating’.

The Government – including Mr Drakeford in the same interview – have blamed limited supply from manufacturers for slowing down the roll-out of vaccines, which it is hoped could bring an end to the UK’s relentless cycle of lockdowns.

Britain has so far immunised nearly 3.9million people – Wales has done the fewest in relation to its population size with a total of 126,375.

‘We have a long way to go and there will be challenges ahead – but together we are making huge progress in our fight against this virus,’ he said.

There are claims swirling that Mr Johnson wants all adults to get an initial jab by June. And Mr Zahawi backed the target to offer a first jab to everyone by September as ‘achievable’.

However, he fuelled questions about the way in which people are getting access by confirming that over-70s are currently being offered first jabs in areas only where ‘the majority’ of over-80s have had their first shot. The speed of the process has varied widely in different areas.

‘Anyone who is over 80 watching us this morning should not worry because we are making sure that those areas have vaccinated the majority of their over-80s,’ Mr Zahawi told the BBC. 

‘And in some areas they’ve got to 90 per cent of their over-80s, that’s where the letters are going out for the over-70s to invite them for their vaccinations.’ 

Downing Street said those aged over 70 would start to be offered vaccines in areas where the ‘majority’ of those in the older age category and higher up the priority list had already received their first jab – but refused to say what that meant.

A spokesman said: ‘From today, those aged 70 and over will begin receiving invitation for vaccination, and it will be for them to book an appointment or come forward.

‘Depending on where they are, the timing will be slightly different but the important point is that this allows areas that have already vaccinated a majority of those over 80, care home residents, frontline NHS and care home staff to keep the momentum up and to start giving it to further-at-risk people.’

Asked whether those in their 70s could expect to start receiving their vaccination this week, the spokesman said the jabs would start ‘shortly’. 

The PM’s spokesman also insisted supplies were being ‘distributed equally’ across the country.

‘In some areas where they have already vaccinated the majority of those four high-risk groups, we want to ensure we maintain momentum and continue to rollout the vaccine to more and more people who are at higher clinical risk – that’s why we sent out the letter to the over-70s,’ the spokesman said.

‘The Prime Minister has stated clearly that we will ensure that everybody in the first four priority groups will receive a vaccination by February 15 and we’ve also said that care home residents will all have received it by the end of the month.’

But Work and Pensions Secretary Ms Coffey was among those expressing alarm at the situation, although she later said she had been reassured.  

‘I know it is both distressing and annoying when people hear that other cohorts of a lower priority (according to the JCVI) are being vaccinated ahead of our oldest and most vulnerable. On that point, every care home resident will be vaccinated by next Sunday,’ she posted on Facebook.

‘I am already in regular contact with the NHS and Ministers but will be following up with the local NHS to work out what is going on regarding contacting 80+ population (main route is by text and/or letter) and will be pressing for some local communication.’

Touring the Oxford Biomedica vaccine plant today, Mr Johnson appeared to dismiss demands from Tory MPs for an early ‘road map’ to show how lockdown will be eased. 

And he warned when the loosening does come it will not be an ‘open sesame’ moment.

The PM told reporters: ‘I understand completely that people want to get back to normal as fast as we possibly can. It does depend on things going well.

‘It depends on the vaccination programme going well, it depends on there being no new variants that throw our plans out and we have to mitigate against, and it depends on everybody, all of us, remembering that we’re not out of the woods yet.’

He said: ‘We’re going as fast as we can but I stress we can do everything we can to open up but when we come to February 15, and the moment when we have to take stock of what we’ve achieved, that’s the time to look at where the virus is, the extent of the infection and the success that we’ve had.

‘It’s only really then that we can talk about the way ahead and what steps we can take to relax.

‘I’m afraid I’ve got to warn people it will be gradual, you can’t just open up in a great open sesame, in a great bang, because I’m afraid the situation is still pretty precarious.’

Mr Zahawi laid out the timetable for easing the lockdown, although he warned there were ‘caveats’ about whether it could happen in early March. 

He told BBC Breakfast: ‘If we take the mid-February target, two weeks after that you get your protection, pretty much, for the Pfizer/BioNTech, three weeks for the Oxford/AstraZeneca, you are protected.

‘One of the things we don’t know yet, and the deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam is on record as saying ‘look give me a couple of months and I’ll tell you’, is the impact of the vaccine on transmission rates ie on infecting people.

‘So there are a number of caveats that stand in the way of us reopening the economy.

‘It will be gradually, it will be probably through the tiered system but you’re looking at that sort of period, two to three weeks after the middle of February, after we’ve protected the top four cohorts.’

He said there should be ‘very clear evidence’ by the second week in March that there had been a ‘break in the correlation between infection rates and hospitalisation and obviously death’.

‘There is some really good early data from Israel, where they have vaccinated 20 per cent of the over-60s and they are beginning to see, two weeks later, a marked reduction in the serious illness and death in that same cohort. 

‘So, two weeks after mid-February, we should be seeing a marked reduction in death and of course serious illness,’ he said.  

Mr Zahawi said 24-hour vaccinations will be piloted in London hospitals by the end of January – but he played down the usefulness of the idea in the first phase.

He told Sky News: ‘We are going to pilot the 24-hour vaccination, the NHS is going to pilot that in hospitals in London and we will look at how we expand that.’

Pressed for when the pilots will start, he said: ‘By the end of January, absolutely.’

But he said 8am-8pm vaccination ‘works much more conveniently for those who are over 80 and then as you move down the age groups it becomes much more convenient for people to go late at night and in the early hours’.  

Home Secretary Priti Patel today vowed tougher enforcement on lockdown-sceptic protests as she chatted to police officers in Westminster

Several passengers have been refused permission to fly to Britain from the US today after being told their negative Covid results were ‘not sufficient’. Pictured, Heathrow Airport

Boris Johnson, pictured with his son Wilfred on Sunday, has promised the first four priority groups will all have received the jab by the middle of February

The new mass vaccination hub that has opened in the Olympic Office Centre in Wembley, London today

Home Secretary Priti Patel today vowed tougher enforcement on lockdown-sceptic protests.

The Home Secretary warned people will be held responsible for their actions as she visited St Thomas’s Hospital in central London, the scene of an anti-lockdown protest on New Year’s Eve.

Asked whether there would be tougher enforcement to target protesters she said: ‘Absolutely, without hesitation. 

‘When you look at the pressures on the NHS – and we have been saying this for too long, quite frankly – the public need to take responsibility, act conscientiously, wear their masks, wear face coverings, follow the rules, follow the regulations.

‘I can’t emphasise that enough.

‘The police will not hesitate, they are doing a fantastic job in terms of stopping the spread of the virus, making sure people comply, enforcing the coronavirus regulations but helping the NHS in particular save lives and to protect the NHS.’

Meanwhile, Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has defended the slower rollout of the vaccination programme in Wales – saying the Pfizer vaccine could not be used all at once.

The Welsh Government has faced criticism in the past week for vaccinating fewer people in proportion to its population than the other home nations.

Statistically, Wales is behind the other nations of the UK in delivering the first dose of the vaccine per 100,000.

As of last week, 3,215 had received it in Wales, compared to 3,514 in Scotland, 4,005 in England and 4,828 in Northern Ireland.

Mr Drakeford dismissed the statistics as ‘very marginal differences’, and went on to explain that supplies of the Pfizer vaccine had to last until the beginning of February and would not be used all at once.

‘There will be no point and certainly it will be logistically very damaging to try to use all of that in the first week and then to have all our vaccinators standing around with nothing to do with for another month,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

‘The sensible thing to do is to use the vaccine you’ve got over the period that you’ve got it for so that your system can absorb it, they can go on working, that you don’t have people standing around with nothing to do.

Mr Raab pledged yesterday that every over-18 will be offered a first jab by September – if not earlier.

And he said he was hopeful some lockdown restrictions could start to be lifted from March. 

Ten new mass vaccination hubs will open today, including Blackburn Cathedral and Taunton Racecourse. 

Ministers said the priority this week will still be to vaccinate the top two priority groups, made up of care home residents and staff, the over-80s, and NHS workers. 

More than 3.8million have received their first vaccine dose so far. But NHS sites which have spare capacity will be allowed to offer jabs to those aged over 70 and those who are ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’.

Boris Johnson has promised the first four priority groups will all have received the jab by the middle of February.

The PM said: ‘Today is a significant milestone in our vaccination programme as we open it up to millions more who are most at risk from Covid-19. We are now delivering the vaccine at a rate of 140 jabs a minute and I want to thank everyone involved in this national effort.

‘We have a long way to go and there will doubtless be challenges ahead – but by working together we are making huge progress in our fight against this virus.’

Mr Hancock added: ‘Now that more than half of all over-80s have had their jab, we can begin vaccinating the next most vulnerable groups.

‘Where an area has already reached the vast majority of groups one and two, they can now start opening up the programme to groups three and four.

‘We are working day and night to make sure everyone who is 70 and over, our health and social care workers and the clinically extremely vulnerable are offered the vaccine by the middle of February and our NHS heroes are making huge strides in making this happen.’ Mr Raab said yesterday it would be ‘great’ if the rollout could be faster amid reports that the target of offering everyone in the UK the jab could be met by June, but said the Government was working to the early autumn target.

‘Our target is by September to have offered all the adult population a first dose. If we can do it faster than that, great, but that’s the roadmap,’ he told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday.

Mr Raab said the Government hoped 88 per cent of those most at risk of dying from coronavirus would receive their first jab by the middle of February, with 99 per cent of those at greatest risk protected by the early spring.

He suggested lockdown restrictions could then be eased – with a possible return to the tiered system. ‘I think it is fair to say it won’t be a big bang, if you like, it will be done phased, possibly back through the tiered approach,’ he told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show.

Asked if vaccine supplies are sufficient for someone to get their second dose within 12 weeks, he said ‘we ought to’ be able to deliver.

Sir Simon Stevens said staff were jabbing ‘four times faster’ than people are newly catching the virus.

He also predicted lockdown could be eased ‘gradually’ around spring and summer time. However, he said this would depend on the effect of new variants of coronavirus.

A new strain found in the UK that is more transmissible than previous types is rapidly spreading across the country, and variants found in Brazil and South Africa are also being viewed with concern by virologists in case they are more resistant to vaccines.

Covid was England’s biggest killer in 2020 and accounted for one in eight deaths, official data reveals 

Coronavirus was the leading cause of death in England last year and accounted for one in eight fatalities, official data has revealed. 

An Office for National Statistics report published today found Covid-19 was responsible for 69,101 out of 569,770 total deaths in 2020 (12.1 per cent).  

The figure is slightly lower than the 78,076 on the Government’s dashboard because the ONS looks at cases where Covid was mentioned on the death certificate. The official tally counts people who died within 28 days of testing positive for the virus. Number 10’s figure will also be higher because it includes deaths from this January.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s were the second biggest killers in England in 2020, claiming 66,060 lives, while heart disease was behind 51,979 deaths. There were just 18,656 flu and pneumonia deaths last year, 40 per cent lower than average, which is thought to be the knock-on effect of social distancing measures.

The ONS report also found that in December, deaths from all causes were 25 per cent higher than the five-year average. Covid-19 was by far the biggest killer last month, claiming 10,973 lives. Covid killed more people than dementia, Alzheimer’s and heart disease combined (9,646). 

Meanwhile, an interactive map developed by the ONS shows how those in the poorest parts of the country have been two-and-a-half times more likely to fall victim to Covid-19 than those in the wealthiest areas. 

Scientists say people in deprived neighbourhoods are at an increased risk because they often have poorer general health, are more likely to live in overcrowded and multi-generational households and rely on public transport.

The ONS said there were 52,676 deaths registered in England in December last year. This was 8,390 more deaths than in December 2019 and 10,594 (25.2 per cent) deaths more than the five-year average. Of the deaths registered in December 2020, 26,981 were males and 25,695 were females.

In Wales, there were 3,941 deaths, which was 851 more deaths than in December 2019 and 1,075 (37.5 per cent). more deaths than the five-year average for December. Of the deaths registered in December in Wales, there were 2,047 male deaths and 1,894 female deaths.

Coronavirus was the leading cause of death for the second consecutive month in both England (accounting for 20.8 per cent of all deaths registered in December) and in Wales (27.4 per cent of all deaths).

Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease was the second leading cause of death in both countries, with Covid-19 accounting for more than double the second leading cause in England, 10,973, compared to 5,281, and more than triple in Wales, 1,081 compared to 346. 

Yorkshire and The Humber was the English region with the highest mortality rate for deaths due to Covid-19 (320.5 deaths per 100,000 people), followed by the East Midlands (316). The South West had the lowest mortality rate, at 123.1.

In December in England, the death rate from Covid was two-and-a-half times greater in the most deprived areas at 391.6 per 100,000 compared to the most affluent places, where it was 152.3. There was a similar picture in Wales, where it was 560 per 100,000 in the poorest parts compared to 285.9 in the wealthiest. 

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