UK must redouble efforts against Covid, says Johnson, as Oxford vaccine approved
The UK must redouble its efforts to fight coronavirus, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said, as an extra 20 million people in England were plunged into the toughest Tier 4 lockdown restrictions.
On the day a vaccine from Oxford University and AstraZeneca was approved to tackle Covid-19, Mr Johnson said a new strain of the virus was “surging across the country” and immediate action was needed.
He told a Downing Street briefing that the Oxford vaccine and one from Pfizer were being rolled out, adding: “We are working as hard and as fast as we can to get the supplies to you.”
But he said: “We have to face the fact that we’ve got two big things happening at once in our fight against Covid – one’s working for us and one’s working against us.
“On the plus side, we have got two valid vaccines, and we’re racing to get them out – and on the bad side there is a new strain of the virus which is spreading much faster and surging across the country.”
Referring to new tier allocations announced by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, Mr Johnson said: “At this critical moment, with the prospect of freedom within reach, we’ve got to redouble our efforts to contain the virus
“No-one regrets these measures more bitterly than I do, but we must take firm action now.”
It came as a further 981 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Wednesday, bringing the UK total to 72,548.
This is the highest daily figure reported since April 24, when 1,010 deaths were reported, but there is likely to be a lag in reporting deaths over the Christmas period.
Among the areas moving to Tier 4 are the Midlands, parts of the North East and North West and parts of the South West.
An additional 20 million people will move to the tightest restrictions, making a total of 44 million in Tier 4, or 78% of the population of England.
Some 12 million people will be in Tier 3, or 22% of the population, while no area will be in Tier 2.
According to the Department of Health, between December 18 and 24, the weekly Covid-19 case rate in England rose to 402.6 per 100,000, a 32% increase on the previous week.
Some 14,915 patients have been admitted to hospital with Covid-19 in the past week, an 18% increase on the week before.
Earlier, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said students in exam years will return to secondary schools a week later than planned, from January 11.
Other secondary and college students will go back full-time on January 18.
Primary schools in a “small number of areas” where Covid-19 infection rates are the highest will not reopen for face-to-face teaching to all pupils as planned next week.