People aged over 70 will start receiving invitations for their first Covid-19 vaccination from Monday, along with the clinically extremely vulnerable, as the programme enters a new phase.
The NHS has concentrated over the past month on giving jabs to its highest priority categories — the over-80s, frontline health staff and care home residents and workers.
But with 3.8m vaccinations administered so far ministers have given sites approval to offer injections to the next two “cohorts” of over-70s and “clinically extremely vulnerable” people with conditions such as cancer, Down’s syndrome, cystic fibrosis or severe asthma.
Boris Johnson said the announcement was a “significant milestone” in the vaccination programme, which aims to give 14m mostly elderly and vulnerable people an initial dose of coronavirus vaccine by the middle of February.
“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,” the prime minister said.
Covid-19 restrictions will not start to ease until March, and only if Britain’s vaccination programme stays on track, foreign secretary Dominic Raab said on Sunday.
The government is set to carry out its first two-week review of the current lockdown on Wednesday (January 20), with no sign of any easing of curbs.
Mr Raab told Sky News the government wanted to end the national lockdown “hopefully, by March”.
“I think it’s right to say we won’t do it all in one big bang. As we phase out the national lockdown, I think we’ll end up phasing through a tiered approach.”
England was plunged into its third national lockdown on January 5, with non-essential shops shut and the closure of schools to all but a minority of pupils.
Ministers initially suggested that the lockdown could be eased in mid-February but the legislation allows it to continue until the end of March.
That has prompted concerns from many Conservative MPs who have called on Downing Street to provide a road map out of lockdown in the coming months.
Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said it was not the case that on February 14 “with one bound we are free”.
He pointed out that a Covid-19 patient was being admitted to hospital every 30 seconds and that a quarter of those patients were under 55.
The NHS announced on Sunday that the daily figure for Covid-related deaths was 704.
However, Sir Simon said he did not think people would have to wait until the autumn until restrictions were loosened.
“There will be a balance . . . this is going to be a progressive improvement as we get more coronavirus vaccination supply.”
Mr Raab said the target for vaccinating all adults remained September after the Sunday Telegraph reported that every adult in Britain would be vaccinated by the end of June. “If we can do it faster then great, but that is the road map,” he said.
Sir Simon said he thought 1.5m vaccinations would have been carried out in the last week, up from 1m in the previous week.
“Everybody is coming together to get this done, we are off to a very strong start,” he told the BBC. “We are vaccinating four times faster than people are catching coronavirus.”
Sir Simon also said that 50,000 NHS staff were off work for coronavirus-related reasons.
The new nationwide lockdown rules in England
The main restriction is a firm stay-at-home message
People are only allowed to leave their home to go to work if they cannot reasonably do so from home, to shop for essential food, medicines and other necessities and to exercise with their household or one other person — once a day and locally
The most clinically vulnerable will be asked to shield
All colleges and primary and secondary schools will be closed until a review at half-term in mid-February. Vulnerable children and children of critical workers will still be able to attend while nursery provision will remain available
University students will have to study from home until at least mid-February
Hospitality and non-essential retail will be closed. Takeaway services will be available but not for the sale of alcohol
Entertainment venues and animal attractions such as zoos will close. Playgrounds can remain open
Places of worship can also stay open but one may attend only with one’s household
Indoor and outdoor sports facilities, including courts, gyms, golf courses, swimming pools and riding arenas, will close. Elite sport including the English Premier League will be able to continue
Overseas travel will be allowed for “essential” business only
Full details are available on the government’s official website.