Fifth phase of vaccine rollout starts as people aged 65 and over will be offered first Covid jab

Matt Hancock today hailed Britain’s 15million Covid vaccine milestone but said there was ‘no rest for the wicked’ as England officially moves on to the next phase of its roll-out.

The Health Secretary said the UK had taken a ‘step towards freedom’ after hitting its ambitious goal of inoculating 15million vulnerable Brits by February 15. Everyone in the top four priority groups  — over-70s, NHS workers, care home residents and staff, and seriously ill adults — has been offered their first dose, ministers say.  

But Mr Hancock admitted there was ‘still a huge amount of work to do’. No10 aims to offer a jab to 17million more people in priority groups five to nine — everyone over the age of 50 and adults with underlying conditions — by Easter. 

Ministers will need to juggle this with administering second doses to those in the top four groups, meaning they will have to pick up pace to ensure the lockdown-easing roll-out is not slowed down by the need to dish out top-up jabs. 

Starting from today, over-65s and younger people with underlying health conditions in England will be offered the vaccine as the programme moves down through the priority list. The national guidance has up until now been to focus on the top four priority groups due to uneven coverage around the country.

But over-60s in some areas leading the way in the vaccine roll-out have already been contacted, including TV chef Nigella Lawson. NHS bosses say local health teams can make their own way down the priority list, so long as they have attempted to reach everyone above them. 

Wales started inviting over-50s for their jab today. Northern Ireland has been inviting those aged 65 to 69 to book a vaccination at seven regional centres since the end of January. Scotland expects all over-65s there to have got their first dose by the end of February.  

Mr Hancock said uptake of the vaccine so far had been ‘much higher than expected’, with more than 90 per cent of over-70s turning up to their appointments. The figure was ‘a little bit lower than 90 per cent’ among healthcare staff, he said, and only around two-thirds of social care workers have had the vaccine.    

He told Sky News: ‘There is a huge programme under way rolling out to invite the next group of people to be vaccinated and, at the same time, from next month we have the second jabs of all the people who have come since January to make sure they happen on time, because they have to be within a specific 12-week time period.

‘So there is still a huge amount of work to do but we have managed to vaccinate those who are most vulnerable.’ 

What are the UK priority groups for vaccinations? 

1. Residents in a care home for older adults and staff working in care homes for older adults

2. All those 80 years of age and over and frontline health and social care workers

3. All those 75 years of age and over

4. All those 70 years of age and over and clinically extremely vulnerable individuals (not including pregnant women and those under 16 years of age)

5. All those 65 years of age and over

6. Adults aged 16 to 65 years in an at-risk group 

7. All those 60 years of age and over

8. All those 55 years of age and over

9. All those 50 years of age and over

10. Rest of the population

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Boris Johnson has promised to announce his road map out of lockdown next Monday, with the lifting of restrictions dependent on how well the vaccine is driving down hospital admissions and deaths.

Over the weekend it emerged that hospitalisations among over-80s was falling twice as fast compared to younger groups, in the first sign of the programme taking effect.

But Mr Hancock said this morning data was not yet available to suggest what the impact of the vaccination programme had been on reducing Covid-related deaths.

He told Sky News: ‘The signs are that, thankfully, the number of deaths is falling and has been coming down for a few weeks. It is too early to say whether that is directly due to the vaccination programme yet.’

Almost 1.2 million letters are due to have landed on the doorsteps of over-65s and the clinically vulnerable over the weekend, asking people to log onto the national booking service. 

A further 1.2 million are due to arrive this week, with those to receive a letter able to choose from more than 100 vaccination hubs or almost 200 pharmacy services. 

Last night, Mr Johnson described the country’s rollout – the third best in the world in terms of vaccination rate – as an ‘extraordinary feat’. He also said that the country can go forward ‘with great confidence’. 

And, in a further boost to millions of beleaguered Britons, ministers are set to discuss plans to allow for shops to re-open, families to be re-united and self-catering staycations to be given the go ahead if Covid-19 infection rates continue to plummet amid the vaccine rollout.

Mr Hancock said uptake of the vaccine had been 'much higher than expected', with more than 90 per cent of over-70s turning up to their appointments

Mr Hancock said uptake of the vaccine had been ‘much higher than expected’, with more than 90 per cent of over-70s turning up to their appointments

Plans to ease lockdown were boosted yesterday by figures showing the dramatic impact vaccines are already having as Boris Johnson last night confirmed the country had hit its target of 15 million vaccinations ahead of schedule.

The Prime Minister said the number of new cases has already dropped ‘very considerably’ preparing the way for lockdown measures to be relaxed.

It is thought that this could mean the re-opening of High Street shops within weeks as well as the easing of restrictions on outdoor exercise and socialising.

Ministers are also said to be considering plans to allow for families of a single household to travel across the UK for an Easter holiday in self-catered accommodation.

It has led to growing hope that families will be able to meet outside by Easter as early as next month to allow children to reunite with their grandparents.

It comes as Health Secretary Matt Hancock set out yet another ambitious goal as he aims to roll out 32 million jabs to all those at risk in just 10 weeks. 

Health conditions that make patients in Priority Group Six eligible for a vaccine 

A blood cancer (such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma)

Diabetes

Dementia

A heart problem

A chest complaint or breathing difficulties, including bronchitis, emphysema or severe asthma

A kidney disease

A liver disease

Lowered immunity due to disease or treatment (such as HIV infection, steroid medication, chemotherapy or radiotherapy)

Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or psoriasis (who may require long term immunosuppressive treatments)

Have had an organ transplant

Had a stroke or a transient ischaemic attack (TIA)

A neurological or muscle wasting condition

A severe or profound learning disability

A problem with your spleen, example sickle cell disease, or you have had your spleen removed

Are seriously overweight (BMI of 40 and above)

Are severely mentally ill

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After the over-65s and 16-64s with underlying health conditions – two groups which together contain more than 10 million people – the Government aims to vaccinate the 55-60s and then the over 50s by the end of April.

The remaining adult population, around 21million people, will then be offered their jabs by autumn. 

Boris Johnson said last week that it was too early to book holidays as he urged people to wait until the government had issued a ‘road map’ out of lockdown.

But there is now renewed optimism sparked by the UK achieving its landmark target of vaccinating 15 million a day early – hailed by the Prime Minister as an ‘extraordinary feat’.

He said jabs have been offered to everyone considered to be in the top four priority groups in England – the over 70s, care home residents and staff, healthcare workers and those who have been shielding. 

It is thought that due to the vaccine rollout success ministers are currently looking at plans that would allow families that live in the same household to go away for self-catered staycations as soon as the Easter holidays.

This has raised fears that letting people travel long distances to their destinations could lead to ‘big movements’ across the UK – potentially leading to a spike in coronavirus cases once again.

But the Prime Minister said: ‘Thanks to the efforts of the British people, the lockdown, plus possibly the effect of the vaccine, we’re going to see the rates coming down more sharply.

‘They’re falling at the moment, we want to be in a position where we can begin to open up.’ 

In the interview with US television network CBS, Mr Johnson continued: ‘What people want to see is clarity about the way forward, and taking steps to unlock, which you don’t then have to reverse.’ 

The latest developments could also see the easing of restrictions on outdoor exercise and socialising as early as next month with the return of one-to-one outdoor sports such as golf and tennis.

It is thought that this will be followed by the re-opening of non-essential retailers with pubs and restaurants being allowed to serve people outdoors later in April. 

Indoor hospitality would not return until May with the possibility of delay until August. 

The pace at which restrictions are eased will depend on the ongoing scientific advice but ministers are also considering plans to allow grandparents to reunite with their grandchildren outdoors from next month. 

Schools are set to be the first to return with people also allowed to meet friends and family outdoors on a one-to-one basis. 

Dominic Raab suggests vaccine passports could be needed for SHOPS 

Downing Street slapped down Dominic Raab yesterday after he suggested vaccine passports could be required before going into shops and restaurants.

The Foreign Secretary said the Government was considering their use at a ‘domestic or local level’.

The comments came as a surprise as ministers have repeatedly ruled out the use of vaccine passports in the UK.

Officials are working on plans to use documentation that proves someone has had the jab for international travel. Asked if it could be required to enter supermarkets, Mr Raab told LBC radio: ‘It’s something that hasn’t been ruled out. It’s under consideration.

‘But of course you’ve got to make it workable… when I’ve looked at this, whether it’s on an international, domestic or local level, you’ve got to know the document being presented is something you can rely on.’

Last night a No 10 source said the Government was not considering vaccine passports for domestic use.

Former prime minister Tony Blair yesterday said the UK should create a global Covid vaccination passport scheme before hosting the G7 summit in June.

He wrote in the Mail on Sunday: ‘The need is obvious. The world is moving in this direction.’

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A government source told The Telegraph that there could be an exemption to the one-to-one outdoor meeting rule for children: ‘If grandparents had had the vaccine, that would be likely to be okay.  

‘Given that people will have immunity, that would be a fair assumption, but nothing has been decided.’       

It comes after Health Secretary Matt Hancock set out yet another ambitious goal as he aims to roll out 32 million jabs to all those at risk by April. 

The Prime Minister will publish a detailed roadmap setting out his plan for lifting the national lockdown in England next Monday, starting on March 8 with the return of schools and allowing people to meet one friend for coffee on a park bench.

The blueprint will avoid setting hard-and-fast dates for subsequent stages, but will lay out the sequence in which restrictions will be lifted.

In other developments:

  • The UK recorded 10,972 new Covid-19 cases and another 258 deaths, down 30 per cent from the previous week’s total of 373 and the lowest number since Boxing Day;
  • A travel industry campaign group, called Save Our Summer, has demanded international travel is allowed to resume from May 1;
  • Pub bosses dismissed proposals to allow customers in beer gardens only as ‘laughable’ and called on ministers to let them fully reopen their doors in April;
  • There were fears of chaotic scenes at airports as Britain’s new hotel quarantine scheme for travellers came into force today;
  • MPs demanded ministers publish an assessment of the economic impact of different routes out of lockdown;
  • Downing Street slapped down Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab after he suggested people could have to show vaccine passports before being allowed into shops and restaurants.

No 10 officials are working on three different plans for unlocking based on the health data – optimistic, moderate, and gloomy. The speed restrictions are lifted will depend on infection rates, hospital admissions and deaths. 

Landlords demand to be allowed to reopen their doors from early April 

Pub bosses yesterday demanded the return of inside drinking in April – and called plans to only reopen beer gardens ‘laughable’.

Patrick Dardis, chief executive of the Young’s pubs chain, said wet weather would make the outdoors-only idea unworkable and a partial reopening would not be viable for many landlords.

His comments came after a bust-up between pub groups and the Government saw companies pull out of regular business roundtables in frustration.

Ministers are said to be considering plans to allow hospitality firms to serve customers outside by Easter, which falls on the weekend of April 2, with a full reopening not expected until May at the earliest.

This has infuriated industry leaders, who yesterday backed demands by Tory MPs for lockdown restrictions to be fully lifted by the end of April, when most over-50s are expected to have been vaccinated.

Mr Dardis yesterday said: ‘There is talk about opening pub gardens but I’m afraid that is just nonsense. It is a ridiculous idea that you can just open up in outside spaces. This is the United Kingdom. Yes, of course, you occasionally get a half-decent spring and a good summer but it is mostly wet and cold. So what would be the point?

 ‘It demonstrates that certain people in government have lost touch with the public on this and just do not understand.’

He said Young’s, which has more than 200 pubs mostly in the South East, was losing £5million a month even after receiving state support such as business rates relief.

Mr Dardis, 61, added: ‘Every pub company in the land is burning through millions and millions of pounds every month we are closed – and most cannot afford to keep going for much longer.

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Ministers are waiting to receive figures this week showing the effect the vaccine is having on transmission. A leading epidemiologist yesterday said early indications show a single vaccine dose offers protection from the virus after three weeks for 67 per cent of those inoculated. 

Professor Tim Spector, of King’s College London, who runs the Zoe Covid-19 surveillance app, said if the results from 50,000 people are replicated amongst the wider population we will ‘have really knocked this virus on the head’.

Yesterday Mr Raab rejected what he described as an ‘arbitrary’ demand from some Tory backbenchers for a lifting of all restrictions in England by the end of April. 

More than 60 MPs in the Covid Recovery Group backed a letter to the PM that said schools ‘must’ return on March 8 as planned with pubs and restaurants opening in a ‘commercially viable manner’ from Easter.

Mr Raab, however, said while ministers wanted to lift controls as quickly as possible, it was essential to ensure the disease was under control first.

Tom Ironside, of the British Retail Consortium, said last night: ‘As soon as the Government announce retail can reopen, shops will be ready to do so safely.’ 

It comes as pub bosses yesterday demanded the return of inside drinking in April – and called plans to only reopen beer gardens ‘laughable’.

Patrick Dardis, chief executive of the Young’s pubs chain, said wet weather would make the outdoors-only idea unworkable and a partial reopening would not be viable for many landlords.

His comments came after a bust-up between pub groups and the Government saw companies pull out of regular business roundtables in frustration.

Ministers are said to be considering plans to allow hospitality firms to serve customers outside by Easter, which falls on the weekend of April 2, with a full reopening not expected until May at the earliest.

This has infuriated industry leaders, who yesterday backed demands by Tory MPs for lockdown restrictions to be fully lifted by the end of April, when most over-50s are expected to have been vaccinated.

Mr Dardis yesterday said: ‘There is talk about opening pub gardens but I’m afraid that is just nonsense. It is a ridiculous idea that you can just open up in outside spaces. This is the United Kingdom. Yes, of course, you occasionally get a half-decent spring and a good summer but it is mostly wet and cold. So what would be the point?

‘It demonstrates that certain people in government have lost touch with the public on this and just do not understand.’ 

Unions pour cold water on plan to reopen classrooms on March 8

Teaching unions cast doubt yesterday on ambitious plans to get all pupils back into school on March 8.

Downing Street hopes that all primary and secondary children in England can return to classrooms three weeks today as long as Covid rates continue to decline.

But unions were sceptical and asked why ministers have abandoned the idea of a ‘phased’ return of year groups which was used last year.

Geoff Barton, leader of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘There is no point in bringing all children back at once if this causes a spike in coronavirus infection rates which forces another lockdown. It is vital all options are kept open.’

Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT union, said the Government must show decisions ‘are led by the scientific evidence and advice’. 

He also called for ‘evidence of sustained’ cuts to the R rate, nationally, regionally and locally.

Steve Chalke, who runs the Oasis academies trust , described No 10’s timetable as ‘impossible’. He told The Sunday Times: ‘We should be driven by scientific data, not dates.’

In a blog last week, the Department for Education appeared to be trying to dampen expectations, saying: ‘We hope to be able to start welcoming back more pupils from 8 March at the earliest.

‘It is important to reiterate that we do not see this as a ‘return to school’ but more of an expansion of the numbers of pupils already in school.’ 

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He said Young’s, which has more than 200 pubs mostly in the South East, was losing £5million a month even after receiving state support such as business rates relief.

Mr Dardis, 61, added: ‘Every pub company in the land is burning through millions and millions of pounds every month we are closed – and most cannot afford to keep going for much longer. 

‘On what basis are they making these rules? It is just laughable – as was the 10pm curfew, as was the nonsense about what a ‘substantial meal’ was. When pubs opened last summer more than £500million was spent [making them Covid-safe]. But there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever to suggest that the infection rate grew as a consequence of pubs being open.’

Mr Dardis has written to Boris Johnson criticising the Government’s ‘obvious lack of interest and respect’ towards the sector and argued that pubs should reopen in April.

Tim Martin, chairman of pubs giant JD Wetherspoon, also criticised the beer gardens proposal yesterday.

He said: ‘These decisions are made by ministers with no experience of business, or empathy for business.

‘In my 41 years in business, it’s the least consultative and most authoritarian government I’ve experienced.’

Food delivery firm Deliveroo and 300 restaurant groups also called on the Government to help the hospitality industry yesterday and suggested that Chancellor Rishi Sunak should revive the Eat Out to Help Out scheme when they are allowed to reopen.

However, scientists have continued to urge caution over the easing of restrictions when Mr Johnson reveals his ‘road map’ out of lockdown for England next week. 

Dr Bharat Pankhania, senior clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter medical school, said calls to reopen pubs in April were premature.

He said: ‘What the executives of pubs need to know is that failure to get it right equals back to square one. And back to square one equals much more pain economically, much more hardship.’

A Government spokesman said: ‘We are deeply disappointed that some pub leaders have decided to step back from meetings with ministers. As we plan our way out of restrictions, we will continue to engage relentlessly with the hospitality sector, as we have done throughout this pandemic.’

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