Call for England to enter lockdown 'right away' as Scotland issues stay-at-home order

Boris Johnson warned by former health secretary that hospitals face 'off-the-scale pressures'

UK distributes Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine amid struggle to contain Covid-19 variant

UK distributes Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine amid struggle to contain Covid-19 variant
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Prime Minister Boris Johnson came under immense pressure to impose a third national lockdown as a former UK health secretary warned that hospitals were facing an “off-the-scale” crisis.

Mr Johnson was due to address the nation on Monday night to set out new measures. The UK parliament has been recalled, with MPs to vote on the new strategy on Wednesday.

The prime minister said earlier there was “no question” tougher measures were on the way but did not reveal what new restrictions could be imposed.

There was speculation the rules could include a nationwide Tier 4 declaration that included school closures and no team sport in parks.

Jeremy Hunt, who was health secretary between 2012 and 2018, said tougher measures needed to be imposed “right away”.

Hours after Mr Hunt’s call, Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon issued a new stay-at-home order for the Scottish mainland.

The fresh restrictions came on the same day as the first patients were injected with the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine.

Dialysis patient Brian Pinker, 82, became the first person in the world to be injected with the shot, which was administered by the chief nurse at Oxford University Hospital. Father-of-three Trevor Cowlett, 88, and Oxford Vaccine Group head Prof Andrew Pollard were next in line.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock hailed Monday’s vaccine distribution as a “pivotal moment” in the UK’s ability to curb infections and ultimately allow the straitjacket of lockdowns to be removed. “The vaccine is the way out but between here and now we have some very difficult days ahead,” he said.

Meanwhile, frustrations with the vaccine were boiling over in France, which had only inoculated about 500 people by Sunday.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 04 Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to view the vaccination programme at Chase Farm Hospital, part of the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust on the day that the NHS ramps up its vaccination programme with 530,000 doses of the newly approved Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine jab available for rollout across the UK on January 4, 2021 in London, England. The Oxford-AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine was administered at six hospitals today before being rolled out to hundreds of GP-led sites across the country this week.  (Photo by Stefan Rousseau - WPA Pool / Getty Images)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to view the vaccination programme at Chase Farm Hospital. Getty Images

President Emmanuel Macron demanded the country’s vaccine strategy “change fast” after the drug was initially limited to people in care homes.

It is a different picture in the UK, where the new faster-spreading variant of Covid-19 has put pressure on the government to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible.

Mr Hunt called for Mr Johnson to shut England's schools and borders in response to the mutation – undercutting the government's argument that teachers were no less at risk of catching coronavirus than the rest of the population.

On Monday, 58,784 positive tests and 407 new deaths were recorded in the UK. It was the seventh day in a row the UK recorded more than 50,000 new daily Covid-19 cases.

“To those arguing winter is always like this in the NHS: you are wrong. I faced four serious winter crises as Health Sec and the situation now is off-the-scale worse than any of those,” Mr Hunt tweeted.

“I know all these things will be under consideration with decisions potentially imminent," the Tory MP said. "My point is in the face of exponential growth even waiting an extra day causes many avoidable deaths so these plans must now be urgently accelerated.”

A Downing Street spokesman said any new measures would "protect the NHS and save lives".

In Scotland, the new lockdown will be imposed from midnight to contain the  variant. New laws will require people to stay indoors and work from home where possible for the rest of the month. Outdoor gatherings are also cut back, with people allowed to meet only one person from one other household.

Ms Sturgeon said the mutation, which is 70 per cent more transmissible, accounted for nearly half of new cases in Scotland. "It is no exaggeration to say that I am more concerned about the situation that we face now than I have been at any time since March."

Asked earlier in the day what further restrictions would be put in place, Mr Johnson said: "What we have been waiting for is to see the impact of the Tier 4 measures on the virus and it is a bit unclear, still, at the moment.

"But if you look at the numbers, there is no question that we are going to have to take tougher measures and we will be announcing those in due course."