Covid-19: More than 10 million people in UK receive first vaccine dose

Level of infection ‘still alarmingly high’ and NHS under huge pressure, Johnson says

More than 10 million people in Britain have received the first dose of a coronavirus vaccine but Boris Johnson has warned that the level of infection remains alarmingly high and the National Health Service (NHS) is still under huge pressure.

The British prime minister told a press conference in Downing Street that 90 per cent of over-75s in England had now received the first dose of a vaccine. Mr Johnson said the country is on track to reach its target of offering a first jab to all over-70s, highly vulnerable people and frontline medical and care workers by the middle of February.

Mr Johnson described the vaccination effort as “the most colossal in the history of our National Health Service” but said it was too early to relax the lockdown.

“Though today there are some signs of hope – the numbers of Covid patients in hospital are beginning to fall for the first time since the onset of this new wave – the level of infection is still alarmingly high,” he said.


Britain recorded 1,322 further coronavirus-related deaths and 19,202 new cases on Tuesday but the chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, said the number of cases, hospitalisations and deaths was falling.

"Most of my colleagues think we are past the peak. That doesn't mean you can never have another peak. But at this point in time, provided people continue to follow the guidelines, we are on a downward slope of cases, of hospitalisations and of deaths in all four of the nations in the United Kingdom. So we do think, at this point, this peak, at least, we are passed," he said.

Gradual unwinding

Mr Johnson said he would publish a route map for coming out of lockdown on February 22nd but suggested it would be a gradual unwinding of restrictions, starting with the return of children to school no earlier than March 8th.

He said the country would be in a different position than last summer when it emerged from the first lockdown after infections fell but there was no vaccine.

“We always knew it had the capacity to surge back in the autumn and over the winter months as indeed it has,” he said.

“This time, as we go into the second half of the year, we are going to have the confidence of knowing a huge proportion of the British public – particularly the most vulnerable – will have been vaccinated and probably have received a very high degree of immunity. That will very much change our approach to the autumn and the winter. Highly-infectious respiratory diseases don’t go away all together, at least not easily.”

At prime minister's questions, Labour leader Keir Starmer called on the government to introduce compulsory hotel quarantine for those arriving into the country from anywhere outside the Common Travel Area with Ireland.

However, the prime minister said Britain already had a tough border regime, particularly for people arriving from countries with a high level of coronavirus infection or where new variants of the virus were present, adding that Britain could not completely cut itself off from the world.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times