Britain is continuing to ramp up its vaccination efforts in a bid to soon relax lockdown measures with coronavius cases soaring in recent weeks. Now Health Secretary Matt Hancock has told the Commons the country is “in the midst of one of the toughest periods of this pandemic”. This came after the highest death toll since the pandemic began was announced on Wednesday.
Responding to an urgent question, Mr Hancock said today: “Yesterday saw 1,820 deaths, which is the highest toll since the crisis began.
“As we endure these dark days and the restrictions we must all follow to save lives, we know that we have a way out, which is our vaccination programme and thanks to the hard work of so many people we now have an immense infrastructure in place that day by day is protecting the most vulnerable and giving hope to us all.
“I’m glad to report to the House we now have given over five million doses of vaccine across the UK to 4.6 million people, making good progress towards our goal of offering everyone priority groups 1 to 4 their first dose by February 15.”
The Government has been giving regular updates on the pandemic, with briefings held from Downing Street.
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Mr Hunt, chairman of the Health Select Committee, told the Commons: “If we’re going to bring down the horrific death rates that we’re now seeing, should we not be securing our borders with quarantine hotels, ending household mixing outside bubbles and following Germany in mandating FFP2 masks in shops and on public transport to give better protection to wearers?”
Mr Hancock replied: “We have looked at the question of PPE with respect to the new variant and the clinical advice I’ve received is the current guidelines are right and appropriate.”
The Health Secretary said “very significant measures” have been brought in for international travel, adding: “We remain vigilant on what we need to do to guard against new variants coming in from abroad.
“The new variants do change this question because it’s not just about ensuring we don’t get extra cases coming in from abroad … it’s making sure new variants that might not be dealt with as effectively by the vaccine don’t arrive and stopping them from coming.”
Currently in the UK the R-rate – or rate of infection – stands at 1.2 to 1.3.
This means for every 10 people infected, another 12 to 13 will catch the virus.
At the time of writing, more than 4.6 million people across the UK have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
Mr Hancock told the Commons the Government will publish “more localised granular data” on the vaccine programme from today.
He added: “This first five million doses is only the beginning. We’re opening new sites all the time in cathedrals, and food courts, in stadiums and conference centres, GP surgeries and many many more.
“Today, a cinema in Aylesbury, a mosque in Birmingham and a cricket club in Manchester have all come on board as part of 65 pharmacy-led sites across England that are joining our vaccination programme this week.
“This ongoing expansion will help us to protect even more of the most vulnerable even more quickly. Also from today, we will publish more localised granular data broken down by NHS STP area as well as by region so the public has the best possible information about all this work.
“This virus is a lethal threat to us all and as we respond through this huge endeavour let’s all take comfort in the fact we’re giving 200 vaccinations every minute, but in the meantime everyone, everyone must follow the rules to protect the NHS and save lives, and we can do that safe in the knowledge that the tide will turn and that with science we will prevail.”