Britain’s health chief warned of the grave crisis facing the National Health Service as he urged people to stay at home during the latest lockdown.
Matt Hancock said the UK is now vaccinating 200,000 people a day against Covid-19 and is on course to reach two million a week, the rate needed to cover the most vulnerable people and hit the government’s target by the middle of February.
“It is a very, very serious situation in the NHS,” Matt Hancock told Sky News on Sunday.
“The pressure on the NHS is very bad, so we need to bring the case rate down.
“Just because the vaccines are coming we can’t let up because the pressure on the NHS is right here, right now.”
Official figures show at least 1,296,432 people in the UK have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to date.
“At the moment, we’re running over 200,000 people being vaccinated every day,” Mr Hancock said. “We’ve now vaccinated around a third of the over-80s in this country so we are making significant progress but there’s still further expansion to go.
“This week we are opening mass vaccination centres.”
The government is prioritising the elderly, their carers and health workers, but the health chief insisted everybody eligible would be offered the vaccine this year.
"We are going to have enough to offer the vaccine to everyone over the age of 18 by the autumn," Mr Hancock said.
He said he backed tougher penalties for people caught flouting lockdown rules, after two women were each fined £200 ($271) by police after they drove eight kilometres to go for a walk at Foremark Reservoir in Derbyshire, central England.
“The challenge here is that every flex can be fatal. You might look at the rules and think to yourself ‘Well, it doesn’t matter too much if I just do this or I just do that’,” Mr Hancock said.
“These rules are not there as boundaries to be pushed, they are the limit of what people should be doing.”
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson set a target of delivering about 15 million vaccinations by mid-February as his government races to get ahead of variants of the virus that have triggered a surge of infections.
The UK reported 54,940 cases on Sunday and an additional 563 deaths. It currently has the worst death toll in western Europe – more than 80,000.