Boris Johnson warns of 'tough' weeks to come amid new lockdown pressure
Boris Johnson warned of "tough, tough" weeks to come as the UK Government comes under pressure to announce another national lockdown amid concerns the new variant coronavirus is spreading out of control.
The Prime Minister said there was "no question" about the need for tougher measures, which would be announced "in due course".
His comments came as the national rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine began, with 82-year-old former maintenance manager Brian Pinker the first person to receive the jab outside of clinical trials.
Mr Johnson acknowledged the concern about the rising number of coronavirus cases.
The latest data show a 33 per cent rise in the number of confirmed coronavirus patients in hospital in England between Christmas Day and January 2, figures which have caused alarm in Whitehall and the health service.
"If you look at the numbers there's no question we will have to take tougher measures and we will be announcing those in due course," Mr Johnson said during a visit to Chase Farm Hospital in north London.
The UK Government hopes to get the virus under control while vaccinating as many people as possible in the hope that things will appear brighter in spring.
Ministers have said the NHS has the capacity to deliver two million doses a week of the Oxford vaccine once it receives supplies from the manufacturers.
Mr Johnson said: "We have the capacity, the issue is to do with supply of the vaccine.
"It's not so much a manufacturing issue although that's part of it.
"Each batch needs to be properly approved and quality controlled."
Meanwhile uncertainty continued around the reopening of England's schools.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock insisted it is safe for primary schools to reopen in all, but the worst-hit areas of England following the Christmas break.
He said teachers are at no greater risk of contracting the disease than the rest of the population.
"There is clear public health advice behind the position that we have taken and that is what people should follow because, of course, education is very important as well, especially for people's long-term health," he told Sky News.
The Government is coming under pressure from unions in the education sector to order a "pause" in a return to the classroom until the safety of staff and pupils can be guaranteed.
In a joint statement, the GMB, NAHT, NASUWT, NEU, Unison and Unite unions said there was a "serious risk" of staff falling ill while the rate of infection is so high.
"The Government's chaotic handling of the opening of schools has caused confusion for teachers, school staff and parents alike," they said.
"Bringing all pupils back into classrooms while the rate of infection is so high is exposing education sector workers to serious risk of ill-health and could fuel the pandemic."
Shadow education secretary Kate Green said there needs to be a "stronger set" of coronavirus restrictions in place with a clear "stay at home" message to the public.
She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It is very clear that the Government has lost control of the virus, we're seeing a really alarming rise in cases and in the spread of the infection."
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