Johnson and health chiefs to face questions on coronavirus vaccine rollout

Boris Johnson and health chiefs will be questioned on the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine after warnings to abide by lockdown restrictions were stepped up to ease pressure on the NHS.

The Prime Minister will be grilled by senior MPs on the liaison committee after facing Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer during PMQs on Wednesday.

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi and health bosses crucial to the jabs programme will also be questioned by the Commons science and technology committee.

With rolling out the vaccines key to easing the national lockdown in England, the latest NHS figures showed 2,347,461 people in Great Britain have received a first dose.

But the health service was under extraordinary pressure as official figures showed UK deaths from Covid-19 having passed 81,960, with a further 45,533 cases being confirmed by labs.

To offer some respite, hospital patients are to be discharged early from a London hospital in order to free beds for critically-ill Covid-19 patients.

The owners of the Best Western chain, the London Hotel Group (LHG), will accommodate patients deemed ready to leave King’s College Hospital.

A hospital spokesman said: “To create capacity in the hospital to care for the high number of patients requiring admission, we have partnered with a local hotel to temporarily accommodate mainly homeless patients who are ready to safely leave hospital and will benefit from further support from community partners.”

The Guardian reported an LHG spokesman saying the patients “are recovered or recovering from Covid and who are medically fit for discharge” so do not need specialist medical supervision.

Meanwhile, the NHS denied a report in the Telegraph that suggested the vaccine rollout was being paused in some areas to allow other parts of the country to catch up.

A spokesman said: “Actually, all GP sites are getting vaccine deliveries this week and next.”

Covid-19 patients in hospital in England
(PA Graphics)

Amid concerns the current restrictions may not sufficiently supress the virus, Home Secretary Priti Patel said a minority of the public are “putting the health of the nation at risk” as she backed a tougher police approach to lockdown rules.

She told a Downing Street press conference on Tuesday that officers are moving more quickly to issuing fines where people are clearly breaching coronavirus regulations, with nearly 45,000 fixed penalty notices issued across the UK since March.

Chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council Martin Hewitt said that more officers will be out on dedicated patrols to deal with rule breakers, while Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has also spoken to councils about enforcing the regulations.

But leaders of police groups called on the Government to clarify the “incredibly vague” rules, which saw two women incorrectly fined for driving five miles from their Derbyshire homes to meet for a walk while the Prime Minister went for a bike ride seven miles from Downing Street.

Latest figures showed that as of Tuesday, a further 1,243 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19.

Separate figures published by the UK’s statistics agencies for deaths where Covid-19 has been mentioned on the death certificate, together with additional data on deaths that have occurred in recent days, show there have now been 99,000 deaths involving Covid-19 in the UK.

In other developments:

– The Government faced calls to urgently roll out its national free school meal voucher scheme after one mother posted an image of a £30 parcel estimated to contain just more than £5 worth of food.

– Tesco, Asda and Waitrose became the latest supermarkets to take a tougher stance on customers who refuse to wear a face covering without a medical exemption.

– Data from the Office for National Statistics showed that more than 40,000 extra deaths have taken place in private homes in England and Wales since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

– NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson told MPs the peak demand on the health service may not be reached until early to mid-February.

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