Politics

COVID-19: 2.6 million jabs given to 2.3 million people – but UK warned vaccine ‘not a free pass’ to ignore rules

More than 2.6 million doses of coronavirus vaccines have been given to almost 2.3 million people, the health secretary has said, as an NHS boss warned the jab is “not a free pass” to ignore national guidance.

Matt Hancock told a Downing Street news conference that the government was on track to achieve its pledge of vaccinating the top four vaccine priority groups by the middle of February, a total of 15 million Britons.

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“We are on track to meet that target – it’s not going to be easy, but we are going to get there,” he said.

The four priority groups are: care home residents and staff; all those aged 80 and over and frontline health and social care workers; people aged 75 and over; everyone aged 70 and over and individuals classed as extremely vulnerable.

Mr Hancock said people in these groups account for 88% of COVID deaths, adding that two fifths of over 80s and “almost a quarter of older care home residents” have received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

The health secretary was speaking amid continued speculation about whether England’s third lockdown could be strengthened.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned the government “may have to do more” if ministers feel the rules “are not being properly observed”.

Asked whether this was a possibility, Mr Hancock said people should be focusing on sticking to the current rules “as they are”.

“The NHS, more than ever before, needs everybody to be doing something right now – and that something is to follow the rules,” he said.

“I know there has been speculation about more restrictions, and we don’t rule out taking further action if it is needed, but it is your actions now that can make a difference.

“Stay at home, and please reduce all social contact that is not absolutely strictly necessary. That’s what is needed: act like you have the virus.”

The health secretary said the new “highly contagious” coronavirus variant first identified in the UK was “putting the NHS under very significant pressure”, with 32,294 people currently in hospital with the virus across the UK, up 22% on this time last week.

Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director for NHS England, said there are now 13,000 more COVID patients in hospital than there were on Christmas Day.

Setting out the four-part plan for rolling out the vaccines, Mr Hancock said the government will focus on supply, prioritisation, expanding the number of sites, and workforce, saying 80,000 people are involved in the effort.

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