Matt Hancock says ‘time needs to be taken’ with lockdown despite vaccines for all adults by July 31

A third of all adults in England have now been vaccinated against coronavirus, Matt Hancock revealed today – as he insisted that the lifting of the lockdown must be done carefully.

The Health Secretary revealed that one-in-three people over 16 had now been given one of the life-saving jabs, a boost to the country ahead of Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown that will be unveiled tomorrow. 

Mr Hancock confirmed this morning that every adult in the country will be offered at least one dose of a Covid vaccine by the end of July.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Hancock said: ‘As of this morning, one in three of all adults in the whole country have been vaccinated – it’s great news.

‘We are confident the vaccine works effectively against both the old strain that has been here for some time and the so-called Kent variant, which is now the main source of infection in this country.

‘It looks like the first jab reduces your impact of transmitting the disease by about two thirds but we need more evidence on that.’

The Government previously said it hoped to reach all those aged 18 and over by the autumn, but Mr Johnson aims to greatly accelerate the successful campaign.

Mr Hancock also confirmed that everyone over 50 will be offered at least a first dose by April 15, rather than by May, as previously suggested.  

But he warned that the Government would take its time lifting the coronavirus lockdown, saying it was ‘right to be cautious’ with 20,000 people still in hospital.

Speaking to Times Radio today he said coronavirus restrictions will be eased with ‘weeks between the steps’, suggesting that after schools reopen on March 8 there may be few other changes before April.   

Mr Hancock also said social distancing measures and the wearing of face coverings is likely to remain for a while.

Asked earlier about the speed of the lockdown lifting, he told Sky’s Ridge on Sunday: ‘It is right to be cautious, it is incredibly important. There are still almost 20,000 people in the hospital with Covid right now. Almost 20,000.

‘The vaccination programme whilst clearly going very well, will take time to be able to reach all people who have significant vulnerability, especially because we also need to get the second jab to everybody.

‘So we have got time that needs to be taken to get this right, the PM will set out the roadmap tomorrow and he will set out the full details, taking into account that we need to take a cautious but irreversible approach, that’s the goal.’ 

Nine areas across the UK will have vaccinated all of their over 50s by March 8 – almost a month ahead of schedule, according to new figures.  

Vaccine roll-outs in the West of England appear to be leading the way, with Gloucestershire, Bristol, Devon, North Somerset and Cornwall all on course to have delivered their first jab to over 50s by the end of the first week in March.

Suffolk, Staffordshire, Leicestershire and West Yorkshire are also set to reach the same target.

However, former Tory chief whip Mark Harper, who leads the Covid Recovery Group, this morning repeated his call for all restrictions be lifted by the end of April, once the most vulnerable groups had been vaccinated under the new timetable. 

The Health Secretary said it was 'right to be cautious' ahead of Boris Johnson's big reveal of his roadmap out of restrictions tomorrow

The Health Secretary said it was 'right to be cautious' ahead of Boris Johnson's big reveal of his roadmap out of restrictions tomorrow

The Health Secretary said it was ‘right to be cautious’ ahead of Boris Johnson’s big reveal of his roadmap out of restrictions tomorrow

Estimates based on Covid-19 jabs delivered so far suggest roll-outs in the West could have given the jab to all local over 50s by March 7 - a month ahead of schedule

Estimates based on Covid-19 jabs delivered so far suggest roll-outs in the West could have given the jab to all local over 50s by March 7 - a month ahead of schedule

Estimates based on Covid-19 jabs delivered so far suggest roll-outs in the West could have given the jab to all local over 50s by March 7 – a month ahead of schedule

Former Tory chief whip Mark Harper, who leads the Covid Recovery Group, this morning repeated his call for all restrictions be lifted by the end of April, once the most vulnerable groups had been vaccinated under the new timetable

Former Tory chief whip Mark Harper, who leads the Covid Recovery Group, this morning repeated his call for all restrictions be lifted by the end of April, once the most vulnerable groups had been vaccinated under the new timetable

Former Tory chief whip Mark Harper, who leads the Covid Recovery Group, this morning repeated his call for all restrictions be lifted by the end of April, once the most vulnerable groups had been vaccinated under the new timetable

Prime Minister Boris Johnson aims to greatly accelerate the successful vaccination campaign

Prime Minister Boris Johnson aims to greatly accelerate the successful vaccination campaign

Prime Minister Boris Johnson aims to greatly accelerate the successful vaccination campaign

William Hague calls for lockdown to end in April 

Former Tory leader William Hague has urged Mr Johnson not to keep coronavirus lockdown restrictions in place beyond April when all those over 50 have had the opportunity to be vaccinated.

He said there ‘wouldn’t be much justification for keeping most of the restrictions on people’ by then provided the number of cases is down to a ‘very low level’.

But he warned that there would need to be a ‘deal’ between the public and the Government to do mass testing at that point, and said people would need to be ready for ‘rapid, ruthless’ local lockdowns.

Lord Hague said he was hoping to hear in the road map, which Mr Johnson will announce on Monday, that the ‘great majority of restrictions on people can be lifted’.

He told Sky’s Ridge on Sunday:  ‘Now, he is presumably going to say that will depend on the progress that’s being made and that’s fair enough.

‘But I think if we are going to reach the point, perhaps in April, where everybody over the age of 50 has had the opportunity to be vaccinated and the number of cases of Covid is down to a very low level – the sort of level we last saw in the middle of the summer last year – if both of those things have happened by some time in April, then there wouldn’t be much justification for keeping most of the restrictions on people, I think with one big caveat.

‘There has to be a deal, as it were, between the Government and the people of this country that we have to do the mass testing when we reach that point.

‘We have to be ready for really rapid, ruthless, local lockdowns: we have to all join in making a test and trace system work, which it can do once the infections are at a lower level, so everybody has to be psychologically ready for that and if they are, then I think at that point the government can really release most of the restrictions.’

Lord Hague also urged Chancellor Rishi Sunak not to ‘disincentivise people to invest in the businesses of the future’ ahead of next month’s Budget.

He said: ‘People talk about reforming Capital Gains Tax – well there may well be some very important and worthwhile reforms that can be made of it, but it’s really important not to tax people away from entrepreneurship, from risk taking, from investing in things that might fail in the future, as well as all the things that are going to succeed.’

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Mr Harper said restrictions should not remain in place simply to prevent the emergence of new variants, warning such a policy would result in curbs being in place indefinitely.

Mr Harper said: ‘The way you protect against variants is our fantastic genomic sequencing programme and the fact that all of our vaccine developers will respond to changes in the virus by altering the vaccine – that’s the way you protect against variants.

‘If we are going to say we are so worried about a future variant that might not be susceptible to the vaccine, that’s a recipe for never unlocking our economy and our society, and I don’t think that’s really an acceptable proposition.’

The Prime Minister will temper news of the turbo-charged vaccination programme with a ‘cautious and phased’ route out of lockdown.

All pupils will return to school on March 8 – a planned backed by Labour leader Keir Starmer this morning – and care home residents in England will each be allowed one regular visitor.

By Easter, at the start of April, two households will be allowed to meet up outside. That will be followed shortly afterwards by the reopening of non-essential shops and pubs and restaurants for outdoor service only. 

The hospitality industry is expected to reopen fully in May.   

A leading scientists today also said children and small numbers of adults should be allowed to play outdoor sports immediately. 

Some scientists have warned that if transmission rates are allowed to remain high then it increases the likelihood of variants emerging, and therefore some restrictions are necessary to drive down the number of infections.

But Professor Mark Woolhouse of Edinburgh University says the recent data suggest there is ‘no need’ to be quite so careful.

He said in the Observer: ‘The government has said the country’s exit from lockdown should be data-driven. Well the data is extremely good, far better than anyone, including me, anticipated two or three weeks ago.

‘This virus very rarely transmits outdoors. So, quite honestly, outdoor activities that don’t involve close physical contact could be adopted now. That is not an argument to say we can have crowds back at football matches.

‘But sports involving small numbers of players or sports for children: they could start safely today.’ 

The Health Secretary declined to comment on the details of the roadmap, which has yet to be signed off by Cabinet ministers.

He said Boris Johnson would address the reopening of schools on Monday and told Sky: ‘We have set out very clearly that getting schools back is the top priority amongst all the different things that we want to do to get life back to normal.’

Mr Hancock went on: ‘Whilst we want to set out a road map which gives people guidance in terms of how we think we will be able to do this, we also absolutely will be vigilant to the data on the way.

‘We have seen throughout this pandemic that there have been moments when things haven’t got as we expected – for instance, when the new variant was first discovered in Kent.’

He said there was evidence that cases of new variants in the UK, such as those discovered in Brazil and South Africa, were falling – as he suggested new border restrictions and enhanced contact tracing are working.  

He told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show: ‘As of this morning, one in three adults of all adults in the whole country have been vaccinated – it’s great news.

‘We are confident that the vaccine works effectively against both the old strain that has been here for some time and the so-called Kent variant, which is now the main source of infection in this country.

‘We do not yet have the confidence that the vaccine is as effective against the South Africa variant and the variant first seen in Brazil, but we do think that the measures that we have taken – both the enhanced contact tracing and the measures at the border – are reducing those new variants here.’

Nine areas ‘will vaccinate all over-50s by March 8’

Nine areas across the UK will have vaccinated all of their over 50s by March 8 – almost a month ahead of schedule, according to new figures. 

Vaccine roll-outs in the West of England appear to be leading the way, with Gloucestershire, Bristol, Devon, North Somerset and Cornwall all on course to have delivered their first jab to over 50s by the end of the first week in March.

Suffolk, Staffordshire, Leicestershire and West Yorkshire are also set to reach the same target.

Earlier today Matt Hancock said all over 50s could be vaccinated by April – with all adults expected to receive their first injection by the end of July.

Analysis from the Telegraph has identified the trusts that are set to be dishing out doses by early March.

Cambridgeshire, West Birmingham, Derbyshire and Essex is expected to have their first round of doses for over 50s completed by March 21, while East London’s health care partnership may reach the target by the first week of April. 

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Mr Hancock said the latest data showed ‘around a dozen’ new cases of the South African variant had been found in the country. In total, there have been around 300 cases, he said.

Mr Johnson will today meet senior ministers to sign off the final details with the wider Cabinet rubber-stamping the plan tomorrow morning. 

The Prime Minister will then present the roadmap to the Commons before addressing the nation in a televised press conference in the afternoon.

Mr Hancock said this morning the Government believed it had the vaccine supplies to meet the new target of offering all adults a jab by the end of July.

‘We now think that we have the supplies to be able to do that, we can see the NHS and all of those partners and all of those working on this have been able to deliver jabs at about half-a-million a day, which is an incredible effort,’ he told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday.

‘So, collectively, the whole team now needs to focus on this renewed target of all vulnerable groups, all those over 50 by April 15 and then we will keep rolling out and make sure that all adults get access to the jab.’ 

Labour welcomed the accelerated vaccine target but called on the Government to ‘urgently’ set out how they will prioritise those aged under 50.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: ‘It’s perfectly reasonable for teachers, police officers and other key workers who haven’t been able to stay at home in the lockdown to ask when their turn will be.

‘If Government aren’t going to prioritise by occupation in the next phase, they need to set out why.

‘Vaccination must go hand-in-hand with measures to break transmission chains.

‘That means paying people decent financial support to isolate, updating face coverings guidance and insisting in ventilation standards to ensure all workplaces are Covid secure.’

Downing Street said the JCVI would publish its priority list for the second phase of the vaccine programme in due course.

The ONS infection survey estimated 481,300 people in England would have tested positive for the virus on any given day in the week to February 12, a dip of 30 per cent compared to the same time last week

The ONS infection survey estimated 481,300 people in England would have tested positive for the virus on any given day in the week to February 12, a dip of 30 per cent compared to the same time last week

The ONS infection survey estimated 481,300 people in England would have tested positive for the virus on any given day in the week to February 12, a dip of 30 per cent compared to the same time last week

Public Health England data published revealed Covid cases had plunged in all but two regions of England in the second week of February. They only rose in Tameside, Greater Manchester, and North East Lincolnshire

Public Health England data published revealed Covid cases had plunged in all but two regions of England in the second week of February. They only rose in Tameside, Greater Manchester, and North East Lincolnshire

Public Health England data published revealed Covid cases had plunged in all but two regions of England in the second week of February. They only rose in Tameside, Greater Manchester, and North East Lincolnshire

Rishi Sunak plans to extend furlough- style support for businesses hit by Covid until AUTUMN after telling Tory MPs it needs to last beyond summer for nightclubs 

Rishi Sunak is planning to announce the extension of furlough-style support for businesses hit by Covid until the autumn, The Mail on Sunday has learned.

The Chancellor has told Tory MPs that support for some businesses will need to last beyond the summer, particularly for those that will not open any time soon, such as nightclubs.

The MPs say Mr Sunak will present the furlough as an ‘offset’ to the tax rises.

He will deliver his second Budget on March 3, and is expected to ‘lay down markers’ for future tax rises to start balancing the books.

Corporation tax is set to rise from next year from 19 to 24 per cent, in staggered stages. High earners are also likely to be hit.

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Last night, Mr Johnson said: ‘Hitting 15 million vaccinations was a significant milestone, but there will be no let-up, and I want to see the rollout go further and faster in the coming weeks. 

‘We will now aim to offer a jab to every adult by the end of July, helping us protect the most vulnerable sooner, and take further steps to ease some of the restrictions in place.

‘But there should be no doubt – the route out of lockdown will be cautious and phased, as we all continue to protect ourselves and those around us.’

According to the latest figures, 17,247,442 adults have been given their first dose of a vaccine, with 604,885 getting second doses. More than 1,500 vaccination sites are now spread across the country.

NHS England also revealed that more than two-thirds of those aged between 65 and 69 have had their first dose, just a week after invitations were sent out to that age group.

However, there are fears that a low take-up of vaccines among some ethnic minorities which could delay the emergence from lockdown. 

A study in Birmingham found more than a third of vulnerable over-70s of Pakistani and Bangladeshi descent have not had a jab. 

For black Africans, it is 47 per cent and for black Caribbeans it is 41 per cent.

But the figure is only 9 per cent for those who identify as white British or mixed British.

In other developments yesterday:

Risk of getting infected with Covid-19 while socialising outdoors is ‘much, much lower’ than doing the same indoors, leading scientists sa y 

The risk of becoming infected with Covid while socialising outdoors is ‘much, much lower’ than doing the same indoors, say leading scientists.

Even the slightest breeze will radically cut the chance of receiving an infectious dose from a nearby diner, as the air movement will prevent build-up of Sars-Cov-2 particles.

What’s more, the paucity of infections believed to have taken place outside adds to the fact the infection risk in open air is likely to be very low indeed, they say.

But transmission could still occur if people are sitting at the same outside table, they caution.

Explaining why infection risks are far lower outdoors than in, ventilation expert Dr Shaun Fitzgerald, director of the Centre for Climate Repair at Cambridge University, said: ‘The biggest factor is the much, much lower level of concentration of virus particles that you would be subjected to in an outdoor setting.

‘Fresh air effectively carries the virus away.’

This dilution makes ‘a huge difference as evidence shows people are able to fend off infection if they are exposed to a low dose’.

But Dr Fitzgerald stressed the importance of keeping a distance in face-to-face outdoor settings to avoid larger droplets.

 

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  • A further 445 deaths were reported, down 28 per cent on last Saturday, while hospital admissions fell 22 per cent week-on-week and 10,406 positive tests were recorded, down 19 per cent on last Saturday;
  • A former Government education adviser accused teaching union bosses of bringing the profession ‘into disrepute’ by continuing to oppose the re-opening of all schools next month – as claims that Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty objected to a ‘big bang’ return to classrooms were dismissed as ‘total fantasy’ by No 10;
  • It emerged that Chancellor Rishi Sunak has drawn up plans to extend business support until the autumn, but will also announce future tax rises in next month’s Budget;
  • Pubs and restaurants said they were ready for an ‘Alfresco April’ as the boss of the Leon fast-food chain said extending lockdowns by even a few weeks may cost lives due to the economic impact;
  • Demand for holiday cottages and campsites in the UK has pushed some prices up by 50 per cent amid fears foreign breaks will be impossible;
  • An investigation by The Mail on Sunday exposed crooked businessmen offering to sell dormant companies in the full knowledge that they will be used to make fraudulent claims for Government coronavirus loans;
  • Preparations for the roadmap were hit by a fresh spate of infighting at No 10, with a Tory think-tank calling for an inquiry into the influence of Mr Johnson’s fiancee Carrie Symonds.
  • The new head of the World Trade Organisation called on the UK and other wealthy nations to send Covid-19 vaccines to poorer countries now rather than wait for a surplus.

Despite his personal impatience for a swift return to normal life, Mr Johnson’s ‘cautious and phased’ approach has been based on analysis of Whitehall data about the likely levels of ‘herd immunity’ after the July target has been reached.

Counting the under-18s too young to be inoculated, those who refuse the jab, and a vaccine efficacy rate no higher than 90 per cent, half of the population could still remain vulnerable to infection, limiting the extent to which the Government can lift restrictions.

Community immunity is usually established when between 70 and 80 per cent of the population has immunity.

Last night, a Government insider said: ‘This is the delicate equilibrium which we will have to establish.

‘Just as we sadly have to accept a certain death toll from the flu every year, we will have to learn to live with Covid fatalities. We are acutely conscious of the effect which lockdown has and balance has to be found.

But separate data from the ZOE Covid Symptom Study app suggested cases have plateaued. It said there were 14,064 new infections a day in the UK in the second week of February, a drop of just five per cent compared to the last seven-day spell. Their app can only pick up symptomatic infections, and not those with no warning signs thought to account for at least a third of all cases

But separate data from the ZOE Covid Symptom Study app suggested cases have plateaued. It said there were 14,064 new infections a day in the UK in the second week of February, a drop of just five per cent compared to the last seven-day spell. Their app can only pick up symptomatic infections, and not those with no warning signs thought to account for at least a third of all cases

But separate data from the ZOE Covid Symptom Study app suggested cases have plateaued. It said there were 14,064 new infections a day in the UK in the second week of February, a drop of just five per cent compared to the last seven-day spell. Their app can only pick up symptomatic infections, and not those with no warning signs thought to account for at least a third of all cases

Hardline union bosses are bringing teaching ‘into disrepute’ by opposing reopening of all schools next month, former Government education adviser Chris McGovern claims 

By Mark Hookham for the Mail on Sunday 

Hardline union bosses are bringing the teaching profession ‘into disrepute’ by opposing the reopening of all schools next month, a former Government education adviser claimed last night.

Nine organisations representing most teachers and headteachers in England have united to brand plans to reopen primary and secondary schools from March 8 ‘reckless’.

Instead of the so-called ‘big bang’ opening being pushed by Boris Johnson, they want a slower, phased return of pupils to the classroom.

After a string of Government U-turns during the pandemic, union leaders are said to be increasingly confident that they can force Mr Johnson and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to back down.

But last night, Chris McGovern, a former headteacher and education policy adviser to Margaret Thatcher, accused the unions of attempting to ‘bully’ the Government and warned that their stance risked causing huge damage to children’s education.

He said: ‘The recklessness is coming from the unions. They are playing political games with children’s futures and with the country.

‘The unions are seeking reasons for keeping schools closed. What they should be looking for are ways of saving this generation of children. It’s an appalling indictment of the union bosses and the heads. They are bringing the profession into disrepute.’

Last week, The Mail on Sunday revealed a video of militant teachers from the Left-wing National Education Union boasting of using threats of strike action to keep classrooms closed.

Government officials fear teachers will refuse to go into work because it is unsafe, citing the 1996 Employment Rights Act – a tactic used last year.

Leading education expert Professor Alan Smithers said last night it was the ‘instinct’ of unions to oppose measures put forward by Mr Johnson’s Government, adding: ‘I am sure they are hearing from their members it’s a good aim [to reopen schools].

‘But I think it is also the instinct of the unions to find difficulties, because it is a Conservative Government, rather than say, ‘Let’s get on with this, it’s desperately needed’.’

Prof Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, urged teachers to return to school.

‘For Heaven’s sake let’s get on with real life again and give our young people the best education we possibly can in this very disrupted year.’ The nine organisations representing teachers, heads, governors and support staff signed a statement urging Mr Johnson to open schools on March 8 ‘only if the scientific evidence is absolutely clear that this is safe’ and even then ‘to go no further than a phased return of children’.

Hardline union bosses are bringing the teaching profession ‘into disrepute’ by opposing the reopening of all schools next month, a former Government education adviser claimed last night

Hardline union bosses are bringing the teaching profession ‘into disrepute’ by opposing the reopening of all schools next month, a former Government education adviser claimed last night

Hardline union bosses are bringing the teaching profession ‘into disrepute’ by opposing the reopening of all schools next month, a former Government education adviser claimed last night

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said that on current trends there was likely to be one infected person for every 300 by March 8 – 4.5 times higher than when schools returned last September.

He added: ‘If we really want to make sure this is the last lockdown, then it is clearly the most sensible course to proceed with caution – a phased approach like in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland – opening slowly and checking what happens to the infection figures.’

Scott Pughsley, a teacher in Preston, last night likened the reopening of all schools next month to ‘pouring petrol on the smouldering embers of a fire to make it go boom and keep burning’.

Matt Hancock is ‘livid with Tony Blair for pinching his Covid ideas to pass off as his own’ as ex-PM – who’s accused of acting as if he’s still in No 10 – gets the vaccine at 67  

By Brendan Carlin, political correspondent for the Mail on Sunday 

Matt Hancock has ‘stopped talking’ to Tony Blair amid accusations that the former Prime Minister pinched Government anti-Covid ideas to pass them off as his own, it was claimed last night.

The Health Secretary is said to be livid after two key proposals allegedly mentioned in private conversations – an initial priority one-jab vaccine policy and mass testing – later emerged as Mr Blair’s own suggestions.

A well-placed Government source told The Mail on Sunday that Mr Hancock had now broken off contact with the 67-year-old ex-premier – who yesterday posted a picture of himself receiving his Covid jab on Twitter – over the breaches.

Tony Blair

Tony Blair

Matt Hancock

Matt Hancock

Health Secretary Matt Hancock (right) has ‘stopped talking’ to former Prime Minister Tony Blair (left) amid accusations that the former Prime Minister pinched Government anti-Covid ideas to pass them off as his own, it was claimed last night

The source said: ‘Matt was briefing Blair as a courtesy to a previous Prime Minister. But he cottoned on that Blair was milking these conversations.

‘And that’s when Hancock said, ‘I’m not going to talk to you any more.’ ‘

Tory MPs have also privately complained at the way ‘Tony Blair appears to be going round still pretending he is PM’.

The Health Secretary declined to comment last night. However, a source said: ‘Matt has spoken with all the living prime ministers in the course of the pandemic.’

Obesity link to UK Covid toll 

By Ethan Ennals for the Mail on Sunday

Britain’s status as the ‘sick man of Europe’ led to our shocking death toll from Covid, experts have claimed.

High standards of NHS care that help many of us live longer with diabetes and survive heart attacks has meant we may have been left more exposed to the virus.

Increasing numbers of older patients living with multiple illnesses ensured many were more vulnerable than our neighbours, said one leading obesity researcher.

Speaking on The Mail on Sunday’s Medical Minefield podcast, Professor Naveed Sattar, a top diabetes expert at the University of Glasgow, said: ‘A third of our nation are in the obese category. This is much higher than other parts of Europe and does contribute to the high excess [Covid] mortality that we’ve seen in the UK.’

Data shows being obese can raise Covid morbidity by nearly 50 per cent.

But our unhealthy lifestyles aren’t solely to blame. Instead, Prof Sattar suggested: ‘We have an excellent Health Service but the consequence of this is we have more people living longer with underlying health problems than many other parts of the world.’

Last month, MP Therese Coffey was lambasted for suggesting on ITV’s Good Morning Britain that the UK’s Covid death toll was one of the highest in Europe because Britons were ‘old and obese’.

The UK is also the most obese country in western Europe, with rates rising faster than in the United States.

Listen to The Mail on Sunday’s Medical Minefield podcast at mailplus.co.uk. 

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However, Mr Blair’s office dismissed the accusations, insisting he had not taken the one-jab policy from Mr Hancock as he had never discussed it with him.

But the claims may tarnish Mr Blair’s burgeoning reputation for being way ahead of the game in the fight against Covid, with even Nigel Farage claiming ‘he seems to have a grip on this far more than the Cabinet’.

Mr Blair’s apparent far-sightedness includes being one of the first to call for the UK’s ground-breaking ‘first-jab priority’ vaccination in a newspaper last December – seven days before vaccine chiefs and the country’s four chief medical officers approved such a plan. 

Earlier last year, he appeared to anticipate the Government’s decision to introduce mass testing for the virus regardless of whether people had symptoms.

The Sunday Times reported last month how Mr Blair was offering ‘strategic advice’ to Mr Hancock while his think-tank, the Tony Blair Institute For Global Change, had been repurposed to address Covid-19 policy. 

One Blair ally even boasted last week: ‘Quite frequently, what Tony suggests today, the Government does tomorrow.’

But last night, the idea that the Cabinet followed Mr Blair was dismissed by one senior Government figure as ‘complete b******s’.

He told The Mail on Sunday: ‘Blair influencing the Government? I tell you it’s the opposite.

‘It’s just stuff that he [Mr Blair] picked up on the phone when he was talking to Matt. Then he goes out and goes public with it.’

The source said that the Health Secretary was happy ‘in the beginning’ to have private conversations with the former Prime Minister.

But he said that came to a stop after Mr Blair appeared to claim credit ‘out of the blue’ for the one-jab dosing interval.

He said: ‘We were already looking at changing the dosing, talking to the manufacturers, before he even published his article on it or went on the Today programme. 

It was an informal chat. Matt was briefing him as a courtesy and the next thing, he’s freelancing, he’s the world expert himself on this.’

The Health Secretary is said to be livid after two key proposals allegedly mentioned in private conversations – an initial priority one-jab vaccine policy and mass testing – later emerged as Mr Blair’s own suggestions. Pictured: Tony Blair getting the coronavirus vaccine

The Health Secretary is said to be livid after two key proposals allegedly mentioned in private conversations – an initial priority one-jab vaccine policy and mass testing – later emerged as Mr Blair’s own suggestions. Pictured: Tony Blair getting the coronavirus vaccine

The Health Secretary is said to be livid after two key proposals allegedly mentioned in private conversations – an initial priority one-jab vaccine policy and mass testing – later emerged as Mr Blair’s own suggestions. Pictured: Tony Blair getting the coronavirus vaccine

However, the ally of Mr Blair insisted he was probably ‘acting in concert with the Government’ by proposing pandemic policies which were then adopted by Ministers.

He said: ‘I think there is some degree of co-ordination. I don’t think it’s in any way illicit or bad.

‘Mr Blair is aware of what the Government is doing. And quite frequently what Tony suggests today the Government does tomorrow.’

Last night, a spokeswoman for Mr Blair insisted his call for a one-jab policy ‘arose out of discussions with experts and from the recognition that there would be a three-month gap between the first and second AstraZeneca jab’.

Mr Blair’s office insisted the mass testing idea was first aired by his institute as early as last March.

A source also played down reports of a rift with Mr Hancock, saying that he had spoken to him since December.

More than two-thirds of people aged between 65 and 69 have had their first vaccine doses – just a week after invitations went out, health bosses say 

By Max Aitchison for the Mail on Sunday 

More than two thirds of people aged between 65 and 69 have had their first jabs – just a week after invitations went out, health bosses said last night.

NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said the extraordinary uptake had led to ‘early signs’ that the vaccine rollout was contributing to a fall in coronavirus hospitalisations.

‘The NHS Covid vaccination campaign continues full steam ahead – letters inviting everyone aged 65 to 69 went out a week ago, and already over two-thirds of them have had their first Covid vaccination,’ he said.

‘Across England overall, nearly a third of adults have now had their first jab, and early signs suggest this is contributing to the welcome fall in coronavirus hospitalisation that we’re now seeing.’

Latest figures show that more than 17 million people have received their first jabs – while the number of people who have had their second passed 600,000 yesterday. Pictured: Doctor Kate Martin (L) administers an injection of AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine to a patient at the vaccination centre set up at St Columba's church in Sheffield, England, on February 20

Latest figures show that more than 17 million people have received their first jabs – while the number of people who have had their second passed 600,000 yesterday. Pictured: Doctor Kate Martin (L) administers an injection of AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine to a patient at the vaccination centre set up at St Columba's church in Sheffield, England, on February 20

Latest figures show that more than 17 million people have received their first jabs – while the number of people who have had their second passed 600,000 yesterday. Pictured: Doctor Kate Martin (L) administers an injection of AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine to a patient at the vaccination centre set up at St Columba’s church in Sheffield, England, on February 20

Now a further 460,000 people aged 64 will be called to receive their jabs as the Government marches towards its target of vaccinating 32 million of the most vulnerable groups in society by early May.

Latest figures show that more than 17 million people have received their first jabs – while the number of people who have had their second passed 600,000 yesterday.

They include Great British Bake Off judge Prue Leith, 80, who revealed earlier this month that she had been given her second dose, having received her first in December.

It comes amid rising fears that the vaccine rollout has become a postcode lottery. Several areas across England have reportedly started offering jabs to people below the age of 60, while others are still working through the 65-to-69 cohort.

Meanwhile, the Government’s decision to space out vaccine doses by up to 12 weeks so it could offer protection to more people was vindicated by two separate research papers published last week. Israeli scientists found a single shot of the Pfizer vaccine is 85 per cent effective in preventing people falling ill with coronavirus symptoms, according to research published in the Lancet medical journal.

Professor Eyal Leshem, lead author of the report which studied 9,000 healthcare workers from an Israeli medical practice over a month, said the findings ‘certainly provide evidence that the UK’s policy on the delay between doses is reasonable and justified’.

And researchers at Oxford University found that leaving 12 weeks between doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine actually boosted how well it works.

Analysis found that a single dose was 76 per cent effective in preventing Covid symptoms between 22 and 90 days after the injection, rising to 82 per cent after a second dose at that stage.

Pub and restaurant chiefs say they’re ready to reopen for Alfresco April – and it looks like their customers are too!

Hospitality sector chiefs last night insisted they are ready to welcome back customers for alfresco dining.

Ahead of Boris Johnson‘s speech tomorrow setting out a roadmap for reopening, leading restaurateurs, pub owners and chefs said they have spent months preparing to serve customers outdoors.

But while they are demanding to be allowed back in business before Easter, No 10 is set to announce – as revealed in today’s Mail on Sunday – that reopening will be put off until mid-April. 

The pubs aren’t open yet, but thirsty shoppers are already thronging to London’s famous Borough Market. Hospitality sector chiefs last night insisted they are ready to welcome back customers for alfresco dining

The pubs aren’t open yet, but thirsty shoppers are already thronging to London’s famous Borough Market. Hospitality sector chiefs last night insisted they are ready to welcome back customers for alfresco dining

The pubs aren’t open yet, but thirsty shoppers are already thronging to London’s famous Borough Market. Hospitality sector chiefs last night insisted they are ready to welcome back customers for alfresco dining

The delay is to give enough time for a study into the effect of the return to school on the R number.

Industry body UK Hospitality, which estimates the sector lost £72 billion in revenue last year and more than one million jobs, last week presented the Government with a ten-point plan to re-open the industry from April 1.

Chief executive Kate Nicholls said: ‘There is no valid reason for hospitality to be at the back of the queue as data shows hospitality venues are very low risk due to the exceptional investment that businesses have made in creating safe and Covid-secure environments.’

Shoppers are back at London’s famous Borough Market

The pubs aren’t open yet, but thirsty shoppers (above) are already thronging to London’s famous Borough Market.

The crowds enjoyed a relatively balmy 15C yesterday afternoon as they browsed market stalls and collected takeaway drinks from some of the capital’s most historic bars.

The lockdown-weary shoppers took full advantage of yesterday’s sunshine, and the nation’s publicans will be hoping for an even bigger turnout when they’re finally allowed to open their doors again. 

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Model-turned-publican Jodie Kidd, who runs The Half Moon in Kirdford, West Sussex, has spent months preparing to reopen. 

She has put up a 22-seater marquee filled with olive trees festooned with lights. She said: ‘We are Covid-safe, we have accommodated all the restrictions, we are good to go.

‘Now we need a date and guidance for when and how we can re-open – we need time to prepare.’

Chef Jack Stein has spent winter deep-cleaning the Cornish Arms in Cornwall’s St Merryn, a pub he owns with his famous father Rick.

‘We’ve given the pub a lick of paint, we’ve just bought a marquee, we’re doing everything we can to maximise our outdoor space,’ he said. ‘We’re raring to go.’

Des Gunewardena, chief executive of the D&D London group that includes former Conran restaurants Bluebird, Quaglino’s and Le Pont de la Tour, said he is planning a re-opening campaign to give his restaurants’ terraces and rooftop courtyards a new look.

Each will be given the theme of a popular holiday destination – with trees, floral displays, live music, cocktail trolleys and alfresco barbecues – to cheer up customers who cannot travel abroad. 

‘It’s like the end of the war – it’s a new start and we will re-open with enthusiasm to look forward. There is a huge demand by customers to get out socialising again,’ he said.

Meanwhile, the owner of a Suffolk-based teepee company said she had seen a spike in interest from pubs and restaurants looking to spruce up outdoor seating.

Jenna Ackerley, of Events Under Canvas, said she normally rents out her 24 teepees to around 180 weddings each year but her income now relies entirely on the hospitality industry.

Pub bosses have been left furious in recent months over the Government’s handling of policies such as the 10pm curfew. Last week, the chief executives of Fuller’s, Young’s, Greene King and Mitchells & Butlers said they would no longer attend weekly calls with Business Minister Paul Scully. They said the calls had become a ‘tick box exercise’ and they were treated with ‘an obvious lack of interest and respect’.

Patrick Dardis, the chief executive of the Young’s pub chain, urged the Government to open pubs by the Easter weekend ‘to allow families and friends to enjoy the start of spring’. 

At the very minimum, Mr Dardis said, his group’s 300 pubs should be allowed to open at the end of April with the Rule of Six outdoors and two households allowed to mix indoors. He added outdoor-only trading would be ‘impossible to operate’ for his group.

Oakman Inns, which has 28 pubs across the Home Counties, all with large gardens, has already invested around £1.4 million in outside tented spaces and glass dining pods.

Chief executive Dermot King said he would back testing customers on entry to his pubs, and potentially scanning vaccination certificates if it meant restrictions such as the Rule of Six could be scrapped. 

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