So far the Government has announced that more than one million people have received the vaccination against coronavirus but there were growing questions over what has happened to the millions of other Pfizer doses which have arrived in the country in 22 deliveries.
Britain is now in a race against time to deliver the vaccinations while seeking to regain control of the epidemic sweeping the country.
Cabinet Office minister Mr Gove made clear that the latest lockdown, which will deliver a huge new blow to businesses, could last until March.
He told Sky News: “We will keep this constantly under review but you are absolutely right, we can’t predict with certainty that we will be able to lift restrictions in the week commencing February 15-22.
“What we will be doing is everything that we can to make sure that as many people as possible are vaccinated, so that we can begin to progressively lift restrictions. I think it is right to say that as we enter March we should be able to lift some of these restrictions, but not necessarily all.”
Mr Gove, though, is understood to be among the more hardline Cabinet ministers on backing restrictions, and other colleagues may press for a relaxation of the measures earlier.
Some of the millions of doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine are understood to have been held back to deliver second doses, before the health regulator approved a policy of initially racing out a first jab to millions more people.
It is also far more difficult to handle than the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine as it has to be stored at minus 70C.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told the Standard: “The NHS has a clear delivery plan and the roll-out will accelerate in the coming days and weeks. This is a massive national effort that we all need to get behind.”
Britain is among the front-runners in the race to get its citizens vaccinated, with Boris Johnson stressing yesterday that more people in the UK had received the jab than the rest of Europe.
Health sources emphasised that the UK is behind only Israel and Bahrain in terms of vaccinations per head of population.
The roll-out is set to be accelerated in coming days, with the aim of more than 1,000 vaccination centres up and running by the end of the week. However, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “With virus levels skyrocketing… rapid roll-out of vaccination is fiercely urgent.
“Ministers should be going hell for leather to get two million jabs a week distributed ASAP and then scale up further. We know this virus can mutate and could well do so again. We are in a race against time and there is not a moment to lose.” The Government is set to announce on Thursday the latest number of people who have been vaccinated and this could see a big rise.
A Pfizer spokeswoman said it had been working closely with the UK Government and the NHS to ensure the shipments of the vaccine remain on schedule. But concerns over the vaccine roll-out came as:
- Official figures showed that 5,600 Covid patients have been admitted to London hospitals in just eight days
- There were 6,733 Covid-19 patients in the city’s hospitals as of yesterday, significantly higher than the first wave peak of 5,201 on April 9, with 814 so severely ill that they are on ventilators
- A further 82 virus deaths in London were announced yesterday, taking the total in the pandemic to 8,774
- Doctors were growing increasingly concerned that cancer operations may have to be postponed as hospitals are overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients Royal College of Surgeons president Neil Mortensen said many hospitals were already cancelling some routine surgery. He told Times Radio: “Obviously, the less priority operations have already stopped in many places, hips, knees, ENT (ear, nose and throat) procedures, and we are now concerned about operations like cancer surgeries being cancelled or postponed because there is just isn’t the capacity to be able to manage them.”
- Another leading health expert said tens of thousands of lives would be saved by the third lockdown announced yesterday. However, Professor Andrew Hayward, who sits on the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, warned that the tough restrictions alone may not be enough to fully reverse the surge in cases.
- The Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at University College London told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The lockdown announced yesterday will clearly save tens of thousands of lives. The threat that we are facing is at least as bad as we were back in March. But the virus is different and it may be that the lockdown measures that we have are not enough so we need to learn from the new insights and new technologies, we need to learn from the last lockdown.”
- Hundreds of medical professionals appealed for higher-grade personal protective equipment (PPE) amid growing concern over airborne transmission. In an open letter, they said that staff on general wards were twice as likely to contract Covid-19 than intensive care staff, who have better equipment. Dame Donna Kinnair, head of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Nursing staff and all healthcare professionals need urgent reassurance.”