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The daily death toll from Covid-19 reached a record 1,564 yesterday as alarm grew over a new mutation found in Brazil.
Boris Johnson admitted he was “concerned” about the new strain which like the South African variant is thought to affect healthy, young people.
The Prime Minister told MPs the Government was “taking steps” to prevent the Brazilian strain arriving in the UK.
He said: “We already have tough measures… to protect this country from new infections coming in from abroad.
“We are taking steps to do that in respect of the Brazilian variant.”
He added that there were still “lots of questions” to be answered such as whether it could be resistant to vaccines.
But he was slammed by MPs as new rules for passengers to the UK, requiring them to get a negative Covid test 72 hours before travel, only come in on Friday.
The Mirror understands that ministers will discuss a travel ban from the South American country at the daily Covid-0 meeting tomorrow.
A No 10 source added: “It’s moving very quickly in that direction.”
A new strain is sparking a hospital beds crisis in Brazil
(Image: AFP via Getty Images)
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The Department of Health is not yet thought to have been told of any cases of the third new variant in the UK.
Jeremy Hunt, chair of the health select committee, told the PM that experts on Nervtag were worried about the new strain which had escaped from Brazil.
Japan’s Health Ministry said on Sunday it had detected a new coronavirus variant in four travellers who arrived in the country from Brazil’s Amazonas state.
They included a man in his forties who had a problem breathing, a woman in her thirties with a headache and sore throat and a male in his teens with a fever.
The daily death toll, the highest since the pandemic began, means the grim milestone of more than 100,000 deaths involving coronavirus has now been passed in the UK.
Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance warned the country was “in for a pretty grim period” of coronavirus deaths which would not reduce quickly.
Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance
(Image: AFP via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson admits he is 'concerned' over new Covid-19 variant from Brazil
Mr Johnson warned that hospital intensive care units risked being overwhelmed unless the virus was brought under control.
He said the situation was “very, very tough” in the NHS and the strain on staff was “colossal”
But Labour leader Keir Starmer blasted the PM for once again being “too slow to act” as infection rates continued to soar.
Calling for tougher measures to be introduced immediately, he asked: “Why on earth are restrictions weaker than last March?”
Mr Johnson claimed to MPs that the lockdown was “starting to work” with “early signs” the virus was beginning to level off.
But analysis suggests that with another 47,525 cases yesterday it is too soon to say whether the restrictions introduced after Christmas are working.
Case numbers are continuing to rise in most regions, with sharp increases across Northern England and the Midlands.
The picture in the South and East is less certain and while rates may have peaked in some areas it will be several days before a clear trend becomes clear.
Ministers want to avoid more restrictions until they have data showing whether existing measures are working,
Instead they have been focusing on improving enforcement of the rules already in place to increase public compliance.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock urged the public not to “take the mickey” out of the lockdown rules.
Matt Hancock urged the public not to "take the mickey"
(Image: Getty Images)
Boris Johnson says there is 'very substantial' risk of intensive care being overwhelmed
But Mr Johnson warned MPs: “Certainly if there is any need to toughen up restrictions, which I don’t rule out, we will of course come to this House.”
Tougher restrictions could include closing nurseries to all but key workers, shutting places of worship, tightening exercise rules and mandatory face masks outside.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced new restrictions in Scotland including limiting click and collect services to essential items only and restricting takeaways.
Deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van Tam warned that “right now we’re in a very dangerous place”.
“It’s precarious for the NHS. Infection rates are dreadfully, dreadfully high across the whole country,” he added.
He rejected the idea that social distancing needed to be increased to 3m saying cough droplets could not jump that far.
Mr Johnson promised to move the vaccine super-hubs to 24/7 operation “as soon as we can” – just days after a top aide claimed there was “no clamour” for it.
A YouGov poll of 2,137 British adults found 43% would be willing to have a vaccination appointment between midnight and 5.59am, but 32% would turn it down.
The PM admitted that supply of the vaccine was the “limiting factor” to getting the jab out to more than 1,000 local centres and seven super-hubs.
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Over 2.6m people have received their first dose but the Government needs to increase its target to well over 2m per week.
Ministers have admitted that some GPs are having to pause their vaccine jabs due to a lack of supply.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi was accused by MPs of being “phobic of numbers” over his reluctance to say how many doses were currently available.
He admitted that the weekly target was not likely to be hit until “the end of the month”.
AstraZeneca told the Science and Technology Committee it is “imminently” scaling up to release two million doses of its vaccine weekly
But UK president Tom Keith-Roach said he had been ordered by the Government vaccine taskforce not to reveal further details of dose schedules.
Ministers have cited “security” concerns over vaccine distribution – even though they had promised to provide the figures.
The head of immunisation at Public Health England suggested second doses could be delayed longer than 12 weeks.
PHE’s Dr Mary Ramsay said: “I think that’s unlikely, but it’s always possible.”
Health officials said the majority of care home residents in England are expected to be vaccinated against Covid-19 by the end of the week, and January 24 at the latest.
The Government has admitted hospital patients face being moved into hotels to make more room for a wave of seriously ill Covid sufferers.