Boris Johnson is set to give a No10 press conference on Monday night after hitting a milestone vaccine target.
The Prime Minister is due to address the nation after announcing England had offered first doses to the top four priority groups.
At the same time, it emerged the UK has now given first doses of a jab to more than 15m people.
The PM and key advisers will now begin plotting a path out of the latest coronavirus lockdown after meeting the goal.
He will outline an exit plan on February 22, with schools expected to reopen from March 8.
He is looking at once again allowing people to meet one other person, whom they do not live with, outside for recreation like a picnic from around March 8.
Restrictions on sports such as tennis and golf, where social distancing is easier, could be eased in April.
But Tory MPs pressed the PM to provide certainty over the restart of pubs and restaurants – which it’s thought could open any time between April and August.
Hospitality will only open after non-essential shops, despite pleas by Tory MPs to reopen pub beer gardens as soon as Easter.
Drawing up plans for the relaxation of curbs can begin after ministers hit their target for delivering 15 million inoculations and offering everyone in the top four priority groups a shot by February 15.
NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: “Hitting this milestone just 10 weeks after the NHS made history by delivering the first Covid vaccination outside of a clinical trial is a remarkable shared achievement.
“The NHS vaccination programme is the biggest and fastest in Europe – and in the health service’s history – and that is down to the skill, care, and downright hard work of our fantastic staff, supported by local communities, volunteers and the armed forces.
“On behalf of the whole country it’s right to mark this successful first phase with a huge thank you to everyone involved in this extraordinary team effort.”
The Prime Minister also hailed NHS staff after announcing all over-70s, shielders, NHS and care staff and elderly care home residents in England had been offered the jab.
For those in priority groups who have still not received it, he added, it is not too late to receive a first dose – simply call the NHS on 119.
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The UK originally pledged to “offer a first vaccine dose” to everyone in the top four priority cohorts by Monday 15 February.
No10 said it could not speak for devolved governments, but Wales already said on Friday that it had met the target.
Mr Johnson said: “Today we have reached a significant milestone in the United Kingdom’s national vaccination programme.
“This country has achieved an extraordinary feat – administering a total of 15 million jabs into the arms of some of the most vulnerable people in the country.”
Clinically vulnerable people and those aged 65 to 69 are being invited to book Covid-19 jabs as the vaccination programme moves to the next phase.
Almost 1.2 million letters were due to have landed on doorsteps over the weekend asking people to log on to the national booking service, with a further 1.2 million due to arrive this week.
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Those due to be vaccinated now include unpaid carers, who fall into category six of the priority list – the at-risk group.
It includes those in receipt of a carer’s allowance, or who are the main carer of an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if the carer falls ill.
Carers UK chief executive Helen Walker said: “Being called for the vaccine in this next phase will bring many unpaid carers a huge sense of relief, having carefully managed the risk of the virus to themselves and their older or disabled relatives for almost a year.
“Carers should wait to be called to book an appointment, and once vaccinated some of the hardest-pressed carers will be able to access support with their caring role for the first time in many months.”
After all the over-50s have got the jab by around April, first doses would start going to the remaining 21million healthy adults under 50 in the UK – ‘phase 2’ of of the rollout.
In the second half of February, the JCVI is expected to set out priority groups within phase 2. It’s thought key workers like teachers and police will be put first.
Mental health and suicide support
Helplines and support groups
The following are helplines and support networks for people to talk to, mostly listed on the NHS Choices website
- Samaritans (116 123) operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Childline (0800 1111) runs a helpline for children and young people in the UK. Calls are free and the number won’t show up on your phone bill.
- PAPYRUS (0800 068 41 41) is an organisation supporting teenagers and young adults who are feeling suicidal.
- Mind (0300 123 3393) is a charity providing advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. They campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding.
- Students Against Depression is a website for students who are depressed, have a low mood or are having suicidal thoughts.
- Bullying UK is a website for both children and adults affected by bullying.
Amparo provides emotional and practical support for anyone who has been affected by a suicide. This includes dealing with police and coroners; helping with media enquiries; preparing for and attending an inquest and helping to access other, appropriate, local support services. Call 0330 088 9255 or visit www.amparo.org.uk for more details.
- Hub of Hope is the UK’s most comprehensive national mental health support database. Download the free app, visit hubofhope.co.uk or text HOPE to 85258 to find relevant services near you.
- Young Persons Advisory Service – Providing mental health and emotional wellbeing services for Liverpool’s children, young people and families. tel: 0151 707 1025 email: email@example.com
- Paul’s Place – providing free counselling and group sessions to anyone living in Merseyside who has lost a family member or friend to suicide. Tel: 0151 226 0696 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Martin Gallier Project – offering face to face support for individuals considering suicide and their families. Opening hours 9.30-16.30, 7 days a week. Tel: 0151 644 0295 email: email@example.com
Despite the target to “offer” a first dose being hit, there will be some people in the most vulnerable groups who have not yet had their jab.
This may be because they have declined the chance, or in care homes it may be because there was an active Covid-19 outbreak in the home at the time.
As of February 7 in England, first doses had gone to 91.3% of people over 80, 95.6% of those aged 75-79 and 74% of those aged 70-74.
84.7% of England’s care home residents had the jab up to that point, rising to 93.2% excluding those who had Covid in the last 28 days and were therefore ineligible at the time.
But figures on the percentage of NHS staff, care staff or shielders who’ve had their first dose of the jab have not yet been disclosed formally. 4,021,093 people under 70 in England had had the jab so far, as of February 7.
Professor Sarah Gilbert, of the Oxford Vaccine centre, who led the team behind the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, said that while “it’s really heartening to see the NHS getting this vaccine out to so many people” pandemic lessons had not been learned until far too late.
She blasted the time taken to build the UK’s Vaccine Manufacturing Innovation Centre in Oxfordshire, which is due to open at the end of the year.
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She told The Observer: “It is wonderful that we are getting the centre, but it won’t be ready until late 2021.
“It would have been better if it had been up and running in 2020. It is going to help us in the future, but there wasn’t sufficient emphasis on getting it ready quickly.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the Government would take a “careful” approach towards the easing of lockdown restrictions.
“We do need to be very careful how we proceed. We have made good progress. We don’t want to see that unravel because we go too far too quick,” he said.
Epidemiologist Professor Tim Spector said Covid-19 cases have dropped by 80% since the start of January and hospital admissions have fallen by 60%. with a 50% decrease in people in hospital with the virus.
Meanwhile, Professor John Watson, who was part of the World Health Organisation team that travelled to China to investigate the origins of the pandemic, said the possibility that it may have escaped from a laboratory had not been “ruled out”.
But he also said the virus may not have emerged in China.