Ministers were under pressure on Sunday night to step up the current lockdown in England amid warnings that the current measures may not be tough enough.
They came as Health Secretary Matt Hancock said about 2 million people – including about a third of people over the age of 80 – had already been vaccinated, and vaccination sites opened. mass aims to speed up the process.
More than half a million people over the age of 80 are expected to receive letters urging them to visit one of the seven major coronavirus vaccination centers open in England, where they can make an appointment online or by telephone.
But, in an interview on Sunday, Hancock also said that while hospital cases and deaths still rose sharply, the NHS was “probably under the greatest pressure it has ever been”.
According to modeling seen by the Guardian, one in five people in England may have had coronavirus, which equates to 12.4 million people, rising to nearly one in two people in some areas.
This means that across England, the actual number of people infected so far may be five times the total number of known cases according to the government’s Track and Trace Program.
Amid fears that people will continue to mix more than they did in the first lockdown, Keir Starmer suggested the current lockdown measures may be inadequate. “They may not be tough enough,” the Labor leader told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
Nurseries are likely to close, Starmer said. “A lot of people are surprised that primary schools are closed and nurseries are not closed.”
Professor Peter Horby, chair of the Advisory Group on New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats (Nervtag), said Kent’s variant has made the situation “riskier” and if the infection rate does not slow down, ” we are going to have to be even stricter ”.
The current lockdown, England’s third, was announced in a televised speech by Boris Johnson on January 4, but Hancock on Sunday, six days later, refused to rule out further restrictions. Reports suggest that the measures could include banning exercise with people outside your household, ending supportive bubbles, wearing masks by office workers and stricter rules for supermarkets, like one-way systems and masks for outside queues. He said he didn’t want to speculate on what might be needed, but that people should follow the rules.
To highlight the importance of complying with the restriction, Professor Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, will make a series of media appearances on Monday morning to highlight the risks facing the NHS.
Whitty, used to press conferences # 10 but not someone who gives interviews often, should point out that the risk of social contact is much greater than it was during the first lockdown because the new variant of the virus is so much more transmissible.
Ministers are confident that the vaccination program will eventually emerge from the lockdown and that mass vaccination centers will open from Monday at London’s ExCel, Ashton Gate in Bristol, Epsom Racecourse in Surrey, Millennium Point in Birmingham; Robertson House in Stevenage; The Etihad Tennis Club in Manchester; and the Center for Life in Newcastle upon Tyne.
Letters are sent to over 600,000 people over 80 who live within 45 minutes of one of the sites inviting them to make an appointment. Anyone who has already offered a vaccination appointment through their local GP can choose the one that works best for them.
Many more GP and hospital vaccination centers are also due to open this week, along with the first Boots pharmacy-based pilots, bringing the total number of vaccination centers in England to around 1,200.
The large vaccination centers, which will also provide the vaccine to NHS staff, will be the first services to deploy volunteers from St John Ambulance and the NHS Volunteer Response Program contributing to the program.
The government is committed to ensuring that all members of the four main priority immunization groups – nursing home residents and staff, NHS and caregivers, over 70s and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable – are offered a vaccine by February 15.
On Monday, Hancock will also release the government’s Covid-19 UK vaccine delivery plan, which he will outline at a No 10 press conference. Hancock said the document was in the process of being released “so the public can be assured of the time, effort and resources that have been and will go into ensuring that we protect the British people from the scourge of this virus ”.
Hancock said the government wanted to immunize everyone in the remaining five of the nine priority groups established by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) – everyone over 50 and people over 16 years old with serious underlying health problems – by the spring. He wanted to vaccinate all adults by fall, he said.
Starmer said the priority list should be revisited after the first four groups have been covered, with perhaps teachers added as a new category, but the health ministry said independent JCVI drew up the list. , and a JCVI source said there were no plans. revise the nine groups already included.
The UK recorded 54,940 more coronavirus cases and 563 more deaths on Sunday. Although both figures are lower than in previous days, the total number of deaths in the past seven days (6,363) is 49% up from the previous week.
Ministers are also particularly alarmed by the number of hospitals. The most recent UK-wide data showed 32,294 Covid patients were hospitalized as of Thursday last week, with admissions up 35% week-to-week. That’s more than 10,000 more than the UK total for the number of hospitals at the peak of the first wave in April.
College of Paramedics executive director Tracy Nicholls on Sunday told Sky News that the ambulance service is currently under “unprecedented” pressure and there are cases of patients having to wait “five, six, seven, eight or even nine hours ”. being transferred from an ambulance to a hospital due to a lack of beds.
She also said she had heard of patients with non-life-threatening illnesses in areas such as London and the South East who had to wait until 10 a.m. for an ambulance to arrive.
Hancock said he expected the government to be able to ease restrictions in the spring, but declined to say exactly when he considered spring to be over. An anonymous government official, quoted in The Sunday Times, said pubs may not be allowed to open in England until the May public holiday.
In a speech on Monday, Starmer will say the government should make families a priority during the lockdown, and he will challenge the government to commit to protecting family incomes by preventing the planned increase in local taxes, by canceling the planned reduction in universal credit; and giving key workers a pay rise.
Starmer will also urge people to take inspiration from the 1945 Labor government when rebuilding after the pandemic, saying, “We can build a country worthy of the sacrifices of the British people, just as we did in 1945 when the government Attlee built the welfare state. from the rubble of war.