Coronavirus vaccines will be offered to millions of over 70s and the clinically extremely vulnerable from this week as the Government expands the rollout amid a border crackdown to keep out new strains.
The Government said it would remain the priority to vaccinate those in the first two groups, but that sites which have enough supply and capacity to vaccinate more people will be allowed to offer jabs to the next cohorts.
Boris Johnson has pledged to offer vaccinations to the first four priority groups by the middle of next month, while Dominic Raab said on Sunday that all adults would be offered a first dose by September.
The expanded rollout arrives as a ban on quarantine-free travel into the UK came into force at 4am in a bid to keep out new coronavirus strains – such as those which have been discovered in Brazil and South Africa.
The new rules mean arrivals from every destination will need to self-isolate for 10 days, or receive a negative result from a coronavirus test taken at least five days after they enter the UK.
Passengers flying in from overseas will now also have to show proof of a negative Covid test before setting off – as part of rules which had been due to come into force last week.
The Foreign Secretary said on Sunday that checks at the border would be strengthened as the new measures enter into effect, and vowed to “beef up” capacity to ensure people are adhering to quarantine rules.
But the Government faced criticism from Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), who said the approach to quarantining foreign arrivals and contacts of coronavirus cases had been “pretty lax” so far.
In other developments:
– NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said that a coronavirus patient is admitted to hospital “every thirty seconds” – but that the health service is vaccinating at a rate of “140 jabs a minute”.
– Another 671 deaths of people who died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 were reported on Sunday, while there were a further 38,598 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK.
– Boris Johnson will face intense pressure from Labour and Tory MPs to extend the temporary £20-a-week uplift to Universal Credit which was given to help families through the Covid crisis.
The Prime Minister said the inclusion of two more priority groups into the vaccine rollout this week marked a “significant milestone” in the vaccination programme.
He said: “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.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock added: “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.
“This measure does not mean our focus on getting care homes, healthcare staff and those aged 80 and over vaccinated is wavering – it will remain our utmost priority over the coming weeks to reach the rest of these groups.”
Ten further mass vaccination centres will open in England this week, with more than a million over-80s invited to receive their coronavirus jab.
Blackburn Cathedral, St Helens rugby ground, Norwich Food Court and a park-and-ride outside York are among the new locations where large-scale vaccination will take place from Monday.
NHS England said they will join the seven existing mass vaccination sites across the country, alongside a thousand GP-led surgeries and more than 250 hospitals already providing jabs.
Elsewhere in the UK, more people are now in hospital with coronavirus in Scotland than at any time during the pandemic – despite new infections falling to the lowest level in almost three weeks.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said 98 soldiers would be deployed throughout Scotland over the next 28 days to help set up 80 coronavirus vaccination centres for NHS Scotland to administer the Covid-19 vaccine.
People in Wales were urged to stick to coronavirus lockdown rules as the “significant task” of vaccinating adults continues.
And in Northern Ireland, a health trust boss said the hospital system is facing huge pressure as it braces for the peak of Covid-19 patients needing intensive care treatment.