Boris Johnson and health chiefs to face questions on coronavirus vaccine rollout

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Boris Johnson and health chiefs will be questioned on the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine after warnings to abide by lockdown restrictions were stepped up to ease pressure on the NHS.

The Prime Minister will be grilled by senior MPs on the liaison committee after facing Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer during PMQs on Wednesday.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi and health bosses crucial to the jabs programme will also be questioned by the Commons science and technology committee.

But the health service was under extraordinary pressure with the number of Covid-19 patients in hospital in England at a record 32,202 as of 8am on Tuesday – up 22% on a week ago, and 82% since Christmas Day.

Latest figures showed that as of Tuesday, a further 1,243 people in the UK had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, with a further 45,533 cases being confirmed by labs.

The Scottish Government is considering further Covid-19 restrictions as the death toll from the virus passed 5,000. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will outline any changes to the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday.

NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson told MPs the peak demand on the health service may not be reached until early to mid-February.

To offer some respite, hospital patients are to be discharged early from one London hospital in order to free beds for critically-ill Covid-19 patients.

The owners of the Best Western chain, the London Hotel Group (LHG), will accommodate patients deemed ready to leave King’s College Hospital.

A hospital spokesman said: “To create capacity in the hospital to care for the high number of patients requiring admission, we have partnered with a local hotel to temporarily accommodate mainly homeless patients who are ready to safely leave hospital and will benefit from further support from community partners.”

The Guardian reported an LHG spokesman saying the patients “are recovered or recovering from Covid and who are medically fit for discharge” so do not need specialist medical supervision.

Meanwhile, the NHS denied a report in the Telegraph that suggested the vaccine rollout was being paused in some areas to allow other parts of the country to catch up.

A spokesman said: “Actually, all GP sites are getting vaccine deliveries this week and next.”

Covid-19 patients in hospital in England
(PA Graphics)

She did not rule out younger people being offered vaccination appointments on a 24/7 basis, saying: “We will look at anything and everything that allows us to get this vaccination programme done as quickly as possible.”

The latest pandemic lockdown in Northern Ireland is likely to last beyond February 6, the region’s chief medical officer said.

Dr Michael McBride said restrictions will be required for a “considerable number of months”.

Amid concerns the current restrictions in England may not sufficiently supress the virus, Home Secretary Priti Patel said a minority of the public are “putting the health of the nation at risk” as she backed a tougher police approach to lockdown rules.

Chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council Martin Hewitt said that more officers will be out on dedicated patrols to deal with rule breakers, while Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has also spoken to councils about enforcing the regulations.

But leaders of police groups called on the Government to clarify the “incredibly vague” rules, which saw two women incorrectly fined for driving five miles from their Derbyshire homes to meet for a walk while the Prime Minister went for a bike ride seven miles from Downing Street.

In other developments:

– The Government faced calls to urgently roll out its national free school meal voucher scheme after one mother posted an image of a £30 parcel estimated to contain just over £5 worth of food.

– Tesco, Asda and Waitrose became the latest supermarkets to take a tougher stance on customers who refuse to wear a face covering without a medical exemption.

– Data from the Office for National Statistics showed that more than 40,000 extra deaths have taken place in private homes in England and Wales since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

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