Boris Johnson has hailed a ‘significant milestone’ after confirming more than 15 million people in the UK have received a dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
The prime minister also said England had hit its target of offering a jab to those in the top four priority groups most at risk from Covid-19.
In a video message, he said that the country had “achieved an extraordinary feat”, adding: “It has been a truly national, UK-wide effort. We have done it together.”
However not all of the most at risk have actually received their jabs yet and The Independent has reported concerns that some housebound over-80s have not even been contacted yet.
The announcement was made hours before the government’s hotel quarantine plan came into effect on Monday, with travellers arriving from 33 “red list” countries to England required to self-isolate for ten days at chosen hotels at a cost of £1,750.
And foreign secretary Dominic Raab has rejected an “arbitrary” demand by lockdown-sceptic Tories for a lifting of all legal restrictions in England by the end of April.
The prime minister has come under pressure from lockdown-sceptic Tories to lift England’s national lockdown restrictions entirely by the end of April.
More than 60 MPs in the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) have written to Mr Johnson, insisting he commit to a firm timetable for ending controls but Mr Raab on Sunday said it was essential to ensure the disease was first under control.
Hotel quarantine rules could cause border chaos, warns Heathrow
Heathrow airport has warned that the UK Border Force may be unable to cope when the government’s quarantine plan comes into force on Monday.
It said flights may have to be cancelled because of long delays to ensure British and Irish citizens and UK residents arriving in England from a “red list” country self-isolate at chosen hotels for ten days/
A spokesperson said: “Queues at the border in recent days of almost five hours are totally unacceptable.
“Ministers need to ensure there is adequate resource and effective processes at the border to avoid compromising the safety of passengers and those working at the airport, which could necessitate the suspension of some arriving flights.”
Meanwhile Scotland’s transport secretary admitted that a quarantine “loophole” allowed overseas travellers to avoid self-isolation by entering the country via England or Ireland.
Visitors would still have to self-isolate for the 10-day period, but would not have to do so at one of the designated hotels due to a lack of agreement between Scottish and Westminster governments.
Ski season delayed again in Italy
Italy has postponed the opening of the ski season until at least 5 March because of the spread of coronavirus.Health minister Roberto Speranza issued the ordinance on the eve of the reopening of resorts to amateur skiers.
Recent analyses of virus samples showed that the more infectious UK variant is now affecting 17.8 per cent of recently infected people in Italy, the ministry said in a statement.
France and Germany have adopted similar measures in the ski sector due to the “worry for the spread of this and other variants of the virus,” the ministry added.
Ski lift operators and resort owners had hoped that they would be able to salvage part of the season, but the day-old government of prime minister Mario Draghi has now promised to compensate the sector for economic losses.
Travel industry demands escape route
As the most onerous restrictions ever imposed on travellers to the UK take effect, senior figures are pleading for the government to provide some hope of restarting holiday sales.
The government is continuing a social media campaign warning that holidays are illegal. The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, has urged prospective travellers not to book for the summer – to the despair of the travel industry.
In response, a “Save Our Summer” campaign will be launched on Monday by a group of UK travel companies that had pre-Covid annual revenues of over £11bn.
Simon Calder, our travel correspondent, reports:
‘We must all remain vigilant’
A health official has said there is still a lot to understand before there is complete certainty over the impact of the Covid-19 vaccination programme, as he warned against prematurely easing the lockdown.
Chief executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, said reaching the target of offering a vaccine to everyone in the four most vulnerable groups in England by the 15 February deadline is a “tremendous achievement”.
But he said we must not let down our guard as the virus still has the potential to destroy many more lives.
Mr Hopson said people need to be alert to the risk from new mutations of the virus, adding: “We must all remain vigilant and follow the lockdown rules restricting social contact.
“We must also be very careful about relaxing those rules prematurely.
“This will prevent unnecessary deaths, reduce patient harm, and help ensure the NHS can care for all patients, Covid and non-Covid alike.”
Czech Republic extends state of emergency
The Czech government has reached a last-minute deal with regional governors to call a new state of emergency for 14 days and avert a chaotic end to coronavirus lockdown measures.
Without extraordinary powers, Prime Minister Andrej Babis’s minority government would be unable to keep nationwide restrictions such as curfews, bans on public gatherings or the closure of shops and services.
Lawmakers last week rejected an extension to the government’s state of emergency, dealing a blow to efforts to fight one of Europe’s highest COVID-19 infection rates and relieve fast-filling hospitals.
But after talks at the weekend the country’s 14 regions on Sunday called on the government to declare a new state of emergency, which it approved at an extraordinary meeting.
“The end of the state of emergency would mean a de facto easing (of restrictions) and we cannot afford that,” Babis said. “I’m really glad that common sense has won,” Prime Minister Andrej Babis said.
The Czech Republic, a nation of 10.7 million, has had more than 1 million confirmed cases, with 18,143 deaths. According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, its rate of 915 new confirmed cases per 100,000 people in the past two weeks is the second worst per capita in the 27-nation EU after Portugal.
No date for return of schools in Ireland
Ireland’s health minister said there is “no fixed date” for the return of schools following the lockdown.
Discussions are ongoing between the Department of Education and teachers’ unions about holding the Leaving Cert and bringing students back to classrooms.
Stephen Donnelly was unable to provide an answer when asked when schools would return.
He told RTE’s This Week: “We don’t have that yet. I know Minister (Norma) Foley is involved in intensive talks and confidential talks with the stakeholders.
“It’s great that the special schools have reopened on a phased basis, it’s great that we’re going to see the special classes in mainstream schools opening up again from Monday week, from February 22.
“Obviously we need to get the Leaving Cert students back as quickly as possible, but my understanding is that there are no fixed dates as of yet.”
The UK is believed to be targeting a date of 8 March for the return of schools.
Vaxi Taxi scheme launched in London
Black cabs are being used to provide people with accessible transport to pop-up Covid-19 vaccination clinics in London as part of a new pilot scheme.
The Vaxi Taxi programme aims to help ferry supplies and patients to temporary clinics set up in faith and community centres across the capital.
Funded by the Covid Crisis Rescue Foundation, organisers hope the scheme will encourage more people who have limited access to transport to receive the jab.
Dr Sharon Raymond, director of the foundation, said: “We are aiming to have pop-up vaccination clinics across London eventually, with a fleet of Vaxi Taxis to help set them up in community centres and faith centres.
“We hope that by doing these pop-up vaccination centres in community centres and faith centres it will reassure people that this is a good way forward.
“It will be a familiar place, not having to go to their own GP surgery.”
UK variant detected in Brazil
Brazil has confirmed two cases of the UK variant in the state of Goiás after examining test samples taken on 31 December, according to the state’s health department.
The state’s health department authorities said the patients had contact with a relative who lives in England and travelled to Brazil for the holidays.
Scientists advising the UK government said the variant may be up to 70 per cent more deadly than previous variants, based on preliminary research.
The findings from the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group was published on Friday on the government’s website.
According to the World Health Organization, the UK variant has now been found in more than 70 countries.
Who gets the Covid vaccine next?
The coronavirus vaccine programme is to be widened to more groups after the government said on Sunday that 15 million of the most at-risk people had received at least one dose.
In England, people aged 65 to 69 and those who are clinically vulnerable are now being invited to book their Covid-19 jab as the vaccination programme moves into a new phase on Monday.
‘Tremendous achievement’: England hits priority group target
Chief executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, said reaching the target of offering a vaccine to everyone in the four most vulnerable groups in England by 15 February is a “tremendous achievement”.
He said: “When Margaret Keenan became the first person in the world to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination outside a clinical trial on 8 December, no one could have anticipated that within 10 weeks, the UK would have made such huge strides in protecting the most vulnerable groups in the population.
“We owe much of this success to the role that trusts, working with colleagues in primary care, and with the fantastic support of volunteers, have played in immunising so many people, so efficiently.”
Mr Hopson added: “But whilst today’s news is a hugely positive development, we must not let down our guard in our fight against the virus. There is still a lot to understand before we can be wholly certain of the impact of the vaccination programme.
“The pandemic has already taken over 100,000 UK lives and it has the potential to destroy many more. And we need to be alert to the risk from other new mutations now in circulation.
“We must all remain vigilant and follow the lockdown rules restricting social contact. We must also be very careful about relaxing those rules prematurely. This will prevent unnecessary deaths, reduce patient harm, and help ensure the NHS can care for all patients, Covid and non-Covid alike.”