The Prime Minister says the government had been looking at the threat of the new variant “very hard” ever since it first became aware of its rapid spread
During today’s coronavirus press conference, on a question about the new variant of COVID-19, Chris Whitty says the threat at the moment is “extraordinarily high” if people do not adhere to the lockdown rules.
He says vaccinations will reduce the risk going forward but only “by degrees” and the restrictions will not disappear in a “single bound”
Some curbs may be needed next winter, he adds, citing the number of people who die each year from flu.
It will be up to the government to decide what level of risk is tolerable going forward, he adds, suggesting that will ultimately be a political rather than a societal decision.
This comes after Brian Pinker, an 82-year-old dialysis patient has become the first to receive the newly approved Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for COVID-19, after Over half a million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine were made ready for use on Monday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson talked about the government’s plan to vaccinate all people in the top four priority groups by the middle of February.
Combined, this group is estimated to represent millions of people in the UK, including:
- Group one: 1.1m care home residents and care home workers
- Group two: 3.4m people over 80 and 1.6m frontline care workers
- Group three: 5.6m people over 70 years old
- Group four: 2.2m clinically extremely vulnerable people
However, it’s important to add that some of these groups overlap considerably; for example, some of the 2.2m clinically vulnerable people will also be over 80 and living in a care home.
So far, the UK has vaccinated around 1.3m people, according to the prime minister.
The government estimates that in total, 25m people fit within its nine priority groups for vaccinations.
ITV’s Robert Peston asks when it might be possible to exit lockdown measures, with the case figures continuing to rise.
Boris Johnson says, with certain provisions, the middle of February.
He says: “Provided we don’t learn anything new about the virus, that we don’t currently understand, such as some new mutation that we haven’t currently bargained for. Provided vaccine rollout goes to plan; provided the vaccine rollout is as efficacious as we think it is”
“Above all as long as everyone follows the guidance now… then we think by the middle of February when a very considerable portion of the most vulnerable groups would have been vaccinated… then there really is the prospect of beginning the relaxation of some of these measures.”
This comes after Michael Gove has warned that there are “very, very difficult weeks ahead” as England battles to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country, which is being driven by a new COVID variant that has been judged to be between 50% and 70% more transmissible than the previous one.
Asked about the risk of mutations to the virus if patients are only given the first dose of a vaccine, Prof Chris Whitty says that by only giving one jab, the vaccine will reach more people “so as long as it provides 50% protection you will have won”.
He adds that scientists believe it will grant more protection than that.
He adds there is a risk of an “escaped mutant” – “that is a real worry but quite a small real worry”.