The NHS will launch a round-the-clock vaccination service as soon as possible, Boris Johnson has said.
The Prime Minister said the process of protecting people from coronavirus is already going “exceptionally fast” but “at the moment the limit is on supply” of the vaccine.
“We will be going to 24/7 as soon as we can,” he told MPs.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock will set out further details “in due course”, Mr Johnson said.
At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson said: “At the moment the limit is on supply, we have a huge network – 233 hospitals, 1,000 GP surgeries, 200 pharmacies and 50 mass vaccination centres and they are going … exceptionally fast.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he understood that pilot 24-hour centres were not yet open to the public but there would be a “huge clamour”.
Yet another Covid U-turn.— Rachel Clarke (@doctor_oxford) January 13, 2021
The pattern is depressingly familiar. Bluster. Dither. Fail to lead. Then, far too late, bow to public pressure.
Even in the best of times, it’s no way to govern.
In a pandemic, it’s deadly. https://t.co/GFOezqhKYq
Lack of demand
Mr Hancock earlier questioned whether there would be demand for a round-the-clock vaccination operation.
He said the NHS is “absolutely up for doing that” but “most people want to get vaccinated in the daytime, and also most people who are doing the vaccinations want to give them in the daytime, but there may be circumstances in which that would help”.
More than 2.4 million people across the UK have so far received a first dose of the coronavirus vaccine.
In Scotland, vaccinations could begin on a 24-hour schedule when mass centres open in late February or early March, the country’s Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, said.
The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine provides the most straightforward route to protect around 15 million of the most vulnerable people by mid-February because it is logistically less complicated than the Pfizer jab, which needs to be kept deep-frozen.
Tom Keith-Roach, president at AstraZeneca UK, said 1.1 million doses of the company’s Covid-19 jab have been released to date.
“We are scaling up very rapidly and this will happen imminently to releasing two million doses a week,” he told MPs.
“Slow to act”
The race to vaccinate millions of people a week comes with deaths and hospital admissions continuing to rise and pressure for a tougher lockdown increasing.
Sir Keir said the current restrictions are “not strong enough” and accused the Prime Minister of being “slow to act”.
Mr Johnson said he would not rule out imposing tougher measures if required.
Earlier, Mr Hancock said the existing lockdown restrictions in England will remain in place for as “long as they are necessary”.
He urged people not to “take the mickey” out of the restrictions, but said it is “impossible to know” when they could be eased.
“We will keep the restrictions in place not a moment longer than they are necessary, but we will keep them in place as long as they are necessary,” he told Sky News.
“These measures that we have got in place that we hope to be able to lift – and we should be able to lift, when we have been able to protect through vaccination those who are vulnerable – right now, the vaccination is not in a position to do that.”
“We always keep these things under review”
Asked if he would specifically change the rule on people meeting one other person outside, he told the BBC: “We always keep these things under review, but you’ve got to balance the downsides.”
He said the rule on exercising with one other person “is clear”, but he is “very reluctant to remove this rule” because for some people, such as those living alone, it is an “absolute lifeline”.
Tuesday’s figures showed a further 1,243 people in the UK had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, with a further 45,533 cases being confirmed by labs.
But Mr Johnson told MPs that – although it is early days – lockdown measures and the Tier 4 restrictions which preceded them “are starting to show signs of some effect”.
Analysis by the PA news agency suggests it is still too soon to say whether the tighter restrictions introduced across England after Christmas have had an impact on the spread of the virus.
Covid-19 case rates are continuing to rise in most regions, with sharp increases across northern England and the Midlands.
The picture in the South and East is less certain, and, while rates may have peaked in some areas it will be several days before a clear trend – either up or down – becomes evident.