Race to double vaccinate 10m in four weeks ahead of delayed lockdown reopening

·4-min read
 (PA Wire)
(PA Wire)

Boris Johnson will step up the daily vaccination rate during a month-long delay in the roadmap out of lockdown to get over 10 million more people a critical second dose, it emerged on Monday.

The daily number of jabs will be increased and ministers are “open” to shortening the gap between doses from 12 to eight weeks for people in their forties, as well as the over-fifties.

Health Minister Edward Argar said a delay of “four weeks or so” could ensure more people get the extra protection afforded by two doses of vaccine. He said the Government sees getting people double-vaccinated as “the key to being able to safely ease restrictions”.

The Prime Minister will announce at a press conference on Monday that he is postponing the full reopening of the economy from the planned “Freedom Day” of June 21 until a new date of around July 19.

In London, the gap between those who have had one jab and those who are double-jabbed stands at more than 1.7 million. However, the capital also needs more than that to catch up because its rate of first doses is lower than in every other regions of the country.

Some 4,750,774 Londoners have had a first dose– some 68.6 per cent of the adult population, according to Public Health England. Of these, 3,008,918 have had both doses, which amounts to 43.4 per cent of the population. That compares with national UK figures of 78.9 percent of over-18s having the first dose and 56.6 per cent having a second dose.

Theatres and the giant hospitality sector warned that such a delay could make threaten the viability of West End shows like Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new Cinderella and endanger some restaurants and pubs that are banking on a good summer.

In key developments:

  • A big hint that the 30-guest limit on wedding parties will be scrapped or eased as originally planned on June 21 was given by the Health Minister. Mr Argar said the emotional toll on couples planning summer weddings “will be very much in his [Boris Johnson’s] mind” as he prepares Monday night’s announcements.

  • A Commons rebellion was threatened by Conservative right wingers. Peter Bone, a member of the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group, said the “goalposts” appeared to have shifted and that he would vote against the delay unless the Prime Minister convinces him it is necessary. “I can’t see why we should be postponing our freedom,” he said. Government sources confirmed there will be a vote in Parliament.

  • Britain is “in the grip” of a third wave of the virus, said a leading scientist who sits on Sage, which advises the Government. Sir Mark Walport backed the delay to the road map, telling Today: “The more people we get vaccinated, the better chance we are of not having serious hospitalisations and deaths.”

  • Furloughing and other help for people and firms could be extended because of the delay. Mr Argar said the PM was “very mindful of the need for businesses and others to get the support they need if they continue to be locked down”.

So far, 75 per cent of adults, or 41 million, have had the first dose, which is 31 per cent effective against the new Delta variant. Half of adults, 29 million, have had a second dose, which affords 81 per cent effectiveness.

Setting out the Government’s latest thinking, Mr Argar said Covid-19 is likely to be “endemic for many years” and at some point, probably when vaccination levels are high enough, Britons will “have to live with it” and get on with their lives.

He suggested the Prime Minister will “slightly increase” the daily rate of vaccinations, allowing about 250,000 to 300,000 second jabs each day. Over four weeks that would be enough to close the gap between the 41 million people have had only one dose, and the 29 million who have had both doses.

Responding to concern expressed by Tory right wingers that it would take until September to get everyone double-dosed, he suggested it would be achieved much quicker. “if you do the maths on that, and you slightly increase that run rate, you would get those second jobs done,” he told Today.

Asked if Britain would copy Scotland and have an eight-week gap between doses for under-50s, he said: “We are always open to scientific advice.”

“I think everyone will recognise that there comes a point where we do have to live with this disease, and recognise that you cannot go for a zero-Covid approach, you have to live with it,” he told Sky News: “Vaccination is the key to that. I think once we’ve got those second doses in people’s arms, once we’ve got that level of protection up to around 81 per cent, I think people will be more comfortable with it and we can see more ease.”

“A month [delay] gives you roughly that 10 million, which closes the gap … so that all 40 million have had their second jabs,” said Mr Argar.

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