London: Britain will extend the time between doses to roll out its newly authorised Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine to more of the population faster, as the toughest set of restrictions were widened to cover three-quarters of England.
However, the government has resisted calls to close schools and said students would return to the classroom next week, despite a mutated version of COVID-19 spreading out of control across the country prompting calls for children to be kept home.
Buses on an empty Regent Street in London.Credit:Bloomberg
In some areas where the concentration of cases is highest, the government will keep all but the vulnerable and children of critical workers home and is not ruling out further classroom controls.
Hours after Britain's regulator issued the world's first authorisation for use of the British-made jab, the UK's chief medical officers said that by stretching the time between the two doses to 12 weeks, more of the population could be vaccinated faster with hopes of lifting restrictions by April and possibly earlier.
The single-dose vaccination idea was first proposed a week ago by former Labour prime minister Tony Blair.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it would allow the NHS to accelerate vaccinations to more of the population but there were questions over a huge shortfall over the number of vaccines that would be available.
"We are working as hard and fast as we can to get the supplies to you and as soon as we have the supplies we'll be getting them into people's arms," Johnson said.
Under questioning from MPs, Health Secretary Hancock told the Commons, under questioning from MPs, that there were 500,000 doses ready to be administered from Monday.
This was a significant shortfall from the 30 million target that Britain set itself for September.
Johnson declined to set a weekly vaccination target when questioned: "We will have tens of millions of doses by the end of March," he said.
Lockdown: a pedestrian passes closed shops in Covent Garden.Credit:Bloomberg
Britain recorded another 50,000 new infections, the second time this week although down slightly from the day's prior record high.
Cases were up 20 per cent over the last seven days but the weekly death rate fell slightly to 3497 despite the daily toll reaching 981 following the Christmas break when fewer deaths were certified and reported. There are 23,771 people in hospitals across the UK.
Johnson, flanked by health officials, issued solemn pleas for the public to stick by social distancing rules on New Year's Eve with the NHS at a "critical point" in its ability to deal with the highest number of patients requiring treatment any time during the pandemic.
"We are still in the tunnel of this pandemic, the light, however, is not merely visible: thanks to an extraordinary feat of British engineering if you like the tunnel has been shortened," Johnson said.
"We are moving faster through it, and that gives me great confidence about the future in the spring," he said.
However, Johnson has previously and repeatedly promised various timeframes for returning to normal life that failed to materialise.
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