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COVID crisis: Boris unveils lockdown exit plan as vaccine drive ramped up

Boris Johnson says overall death toll will be ‘too high’

The move comes as vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi assured Sunday Express readers that the public “are in safe hands”, with the NHS and military ensuring the vaccines get to their target groups. It is “our best way out of this pandemic”, he said. On Friday, Chancellor Rishi Sunak joined the vaccination drive, visiting a centre in New Cross, south-east London, to reassure the vulnerable as they prepared for their jabs.

It comes as the Government prepares to unveil its vaccine strategy with seven new mass vaccine centres. It will also reveal a major new testing programme aimed at people who are carrying the disease but do not have symptoms.

Around 500,000 letters are to be sent out this week to invite people aged over 80 to have their vaccine in centres within 30-45 minutes drive of their home.

This follows the first 130,000 letters being delivered over the weekend.

Appointments can be booked at the centres – including London’s Nightingale Hospital and the Etihad Stadium in Manchester – over the phone or online.

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At the launch, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will say: “Our plan is to vaccinate as many people as possible across the entire UK as quickly as we can.

“And with more than 1,000 sites across the country, including seven new mass ­vaccination centres, we will help hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people over the coming weeks as we accelerate towards offering 12 million people the jab in England by the middle of February.”

He will warn: “There ­are deeply challenging weeks ahead but today signals another step ­forward in the race to protect the public and defeat the virus.”

The seven centres will be the ExCeL Centre in east London, Etihad Stadium in Manchester, Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol, the Centre for Life in the North-east and Yorkshire, Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey, Robertson House in Stevenage, Herts, and Millennium Point in Birming­­ham. The minister in charge of ­the vaccines rollout, Mr Zahawi reiterated the message of the Prime Minister that ­the country is ready to ­go ahead.

He said: “It’s ambitious but I’m confident we can do it, not least because we are drawing on the strengths of two of ­this country’s most treasured assets: the NHS and our Armed Forces. We’re in ­safe hands.

“By the end of this week, we will have over 1,000 GP-led vaccination sites up and running, as well as 223 hospital sites, seven giant vaccination centres and the first wave of 200 community pharmacies.

“It means it won’t be too long before ­we can expand our programme down the priority list and more of us can get the jabs, using our new national book­­ing service to make app­­ointments.”

The Scottish government announced that it has been allocated 533,640 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine this month.

These doses are available for local order and delivery to the different parts of Scotland over January.

A “war spirit” has seen many different sectors of the country volunteer to get involved in the programme.

Eight in 10 rural pubs backed a plan that they become vaccine centres, especially in remote locations.

Mo Metcalf-Fisher, of the Countryside Alliance, which conducted the poll, said: “It is no surprise that so many ­publicans are in favour of allowing their otherwise unused premises to be used in the roll out of the vaccination at this critical time for ­our country, especially in rural areas.

“The comforting news that ­a vaccine is available offers ­a ray of hope at this bleak time ­and we need to press ahead.” Hotel chains have also offered their premises as centres, and community pharmacists are ready to be involved.

And footage has emerged of elderly people stuck in huge Covid-19 vaccination queues in near-freezing temperatures in London and Northampton.

The Jenner Practice, in Forest Hill, south London opened its doors to those aged 80 and over on Friday – and was quickly deluged with patients.

Paul Demetrious posted a video on Twitter after his mum and dad attempted to get vaccinated as the temperature dropped to just 2C.

Dr Gillies O’Bryan-Tear, of the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine, said he is confident that the NHS – with the nation’s ­support – would prevail. He said: “I am quite optimistic. The NHS has shown itself to be very good at mass vaccination programmes.

“A centralised NHS Service works better when you want to vaccinate the whole population. It has shown it can do big vaccination programmes, like the flu vaccine. I think people have also put their hands up to help. We are all fed up with this pandemic – people have lost their lives and jobs. So people are now working together. It is a war spirit.”

In a further move to tackle the spread of the vaccine the Government has announced it is stepping up the testing of people who show no symptoms of the disease.

It will mean that community testing will be expanded across all local authorities in England, with councils encouraged to target testing at people who cannot work from home during lockdown.

Around one in three with Covid does not display any symptoms. Expansion of asymptomatic testing will identify more positive cases and ensure that those who are infected self-isolate.

In addition to local authorities, NHS Test and Trace will also work closely with other government departments to scale up workforce testing. Many are already piloting regular workforce testing, with 15 large employers having taken up this offer already across 64 sites.

These include organisations operating in the food, manufacturing, energy and retail sectors, and within the public sector, including job centres, transport networks, and the military. An estimated 27,000 tests have taken place across the public sector as part of pilot schemes so far.

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