MATT Hancock has told people “don’t blow it now” as he claimed the lockdown restrictions were bringing the coronavirus under control and the vaccination programme was accelerating with more than four million people now having had their jabs.
At a Downing St press conference, the Health Secretary for England urged people to continue to abide by the lockdown restrictions as the pressure on the NHS continued with 37,475 people now receiving treatment in hospitals across the UK for Covid-19, the highest number since the pandemic began.
“Don’t blow it now,” declared Mr Hancock. “We are on the route out. We are protecting the most vulnerable. We are getting the virus under control. Together, I know that we can do it and we have got to stick at it.”
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UK Government data for January 17 showed of the 4,514,602 jabs given in the UK so far; 4,062,501 were first doses – a rise of 225,407 on the previous day’s figures – with 452,301 second doses, a rise of 2,565.
More than half of those over 80 have had their jabs as have half of care home residents. In some places in England, all of those in these two groups have been vaccinated, so those over 70 and in the most clinically vulnerable groups will now receive their jabs. The aim is to get all 15 million people in the four priority groups vaccinated by February 15.
In the last 24 hours, some 37,535 positive cases were reported across the UK with 599 deaths. While these are lower than the previous day’s, Monday’s figures tend to be lower due to more restricted reporting levels over the weekend.
Asked if the restrictions could be lifted by March, Mr Hancock pointed to four tests, at least two of which – seeing a reduction in deaths and an easing of the pressure on the NHS – which had not yet been met. While the roll-out of the vaccinations was progressing well, he pointed to the continued monitoring of any new variant, which could have a bearing on lifting restrictions.
Asked whether families could feel confident in booking a break for the summer holidays as all adults could be vaccinated by June, the Secretary of State replied: “On the summer holidays, I’m going to Cornwall and I’ve said before I think we’re going to have a great British summer but we’ve got a lot of work to do between now and then.
“What we can do is see the line of sight to vaccinating everybody by September and anything before that would be a bonus…We’re driving this as fast as we possibly can,” he added.
Earlier, Boris Johnson stressed mid-February would be the time to take stock of the situation.
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“It’s only really then that we can talk about the way ahead and what steps we can take to relax,” the Prime Minister explained.
He said: “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 Johnson suggested “things will be very different by the spring” and claimed the UK would be capable of a “very powerful economic recovery” as it emerged from the crisis.
Meanwhile, as the new travel corridor restrictions took effect, some people at foreign airports intending to travel to the UK were turned away for failing to show proof of a negative coronavirus test.
Travellers who did make it to UK airports faced hourlong queues at passport controls as Border Force undertook stringent tests. Some who managed to fly in without the necessary paperwork were given £500 on-the-spot fines.
The development came as the UK Government was setting up a pilot 24/7 vaccine test centre in London, Darlington became the first place in the UK to vaccinate all of its care home residents.