England has extended the roll-out of its COVID-19 vaccine to people over the age of 70, the National Health Service has announced.
The UK’s healthcare system said the vaccination program is accelerating, with 10 new locations opening as jab centres on Monday, such as a cathedral, a race course and a food court, to help vaccinate the 5.5 million people who are now eligible.
A total of 3.79 million have received a jab so far.
The next phase has been unveiled as part of the government’s drive to have the top four priority groups in the UK, as outlined for the government by a panel of experts, vaccinated by February 15.
The groups are care home residents and their carers; people aged 80 and front-line health workers; people aged over 75 and people aged over 70 and “clinically extremely vulnerable”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson described Monday’s progress as a “significant milestone” in a Twitter post but added there was still “a long way to go”.
On Sunday, Johnson said about 140 vaccine doses are being administered to people every minute.
He previously said he wants 50 million people to have been offered the vaccine by February 15.
The ambitious plans have so far been successful in the northeast of England, where the council for the city of Newcastle announced on Thursday it had vaccinated all of its care home residents.
But Jess Harvey, a doctor from the county of West England, told broadcaster BBC that doctors are being “set up to fail,” adding she felt “demoralised” as not enough vaccines were being delivered to meet Johnson’s goal.
“I appreciate that there might be issues getting the vaccine out, and if there are, maybe just an honest approach would be helpful right now – to tell the public ‘you’re not all going to get the vaccine because there isn’t enough’,” Harvey said.
The first minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, admitted the roll-out of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was being delayed in Wales as its supplies had to last until the beginning of February.
“There will be no point and certainly it will be logistically very damaging to try to use all of that in the first week and then to have all our vaccinators standing around with nothing to do with for another month,” Drakeford told the BBC.
He added all four priority groups would be vaccinated by Johnson’s February 15 deadline.
During a press conference on Monday evening, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said more than 4 million people had now received at least the first shot of the vaccine in the UK.
“What we can do is see the line of sight to vaccinating everybody by September and anything before that would be a bonus,” he said.
“As the foreign secretary said yesterday, we’re driving this as fast as we possibly can,” Hancock said.
Monday also marked the start of tough travel restrictions for people arriving in the UK.
The UK travel secretary last week announced a ban for people flying in from South America, Panama, Portugal and Cape Verde after an outbreak of a new coronavirus strain in Brazil.
Other travellers must have a negative coronavirus test no older than 72 hours before travelling to the UK and then have to quarantine for 10 days upon their arrival.
They can end their quarantine after five days if they have another negative test.
Long queues formed at the controls at London’s largest airport, Heathrow, on Monday as the new restrictions came into force.
Travellers reportedly had to wait longer than an hour and some complained that this would lead to large crowds.