PM says more than 500,000 people in the UK have had first dose of Covid-19 vaccine

21 December 2020, 17:50 | Updated: 21 December 2020, 19:50

By Megan White

More than 500,000 people in the UK have had their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, Boris Johnson has revealed.

Speaking at a Downing Street press briefing, the Prime Minister addressed fears about a new strain of the virus, saying the Government had taken "prompt and decisive action to curb the spread of the variant within the UK."

He also said he wanted to "stress that we in the UK fully understand the anxieties of our friends about Covid and their anxieties about the new variant" after accompanied freight traffic to France was stopped and some countries banned UK flights.

Read more: Vaccine rollout will not be impacted by freight and travel chaos, Grant Shapps pledges

Read more: Wales' largest hospital ran out of critical care beds across weekend as Covid cases soar

Mr Johnson said: "I hope that everybody can see that as soon as we were briefed as a government of the fast transmissibility of this new strain at about 3.15pm on Friday afternoon, we lodged all the necessary information with the World Health Organisation, and we took prompt and decisive action the very next day to curb the spread of the variant within the UK.

"We want to work with our colleagues, with our friends around the world, as we have from the beginning to develop new treatments and new vaccines.

"And today I can announce that half a million people in the UK have now received their first dose.

"As we’ve seen throughout this pandemic, this virus alas can move all too swiftly from one nation to another, but it is steadily being defeated by an international response.

"An international response that is bringing the hope of vaccines to the entire world, and in that the UK will continue to play our full part."

British grandmother Margaret Keenan became the first patient in the world on December 8 to receive the Pfizer Covid-19 jab following its clinical approval.

It came as the Government's New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats advisory group (NervTag) told a Science Media Centre briefing on the new mutant variant that cases outside of Tier 4 in London and the south east of England "are increasing at similar rates" those in affected areas, and that it had a "transmission advantage" over other strains of the virus.

However, World Health Organisation director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said there was "no evidence" the new strain was "more likely to cause severe disease or mortality".

Elsewhere, regional public health directors in Manchester and the West Midlands urged anyone who travelled from a Tier 4 area or Wales to self isolate upon their arrival and "assume" they have the new Covid-19 variant.

Earlier on Monday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the coronavirus vaccination programme would not be affected by France's ban on freight from the UK.

He said: "To put this into context, there are about 6,000 vehicles we would expect, just under in Dover today, probably 4,000 would have gone across from Dover, just under about 2,000 on the Eurotunnel.

"But there is probably something like 32,000 units that would have been the daily total, so the vast majority - including virtually all the vaccine - actually comes via container and there are good supplies in the meantime.

"So this won't have an impact on the vaccination programme."

New border restrictions in France led to the closure of key trade routes in Kent on Sunday night.

It is likely to have severe ramifications for UK trade, which in recent days has seen around 10,000 lorries passing through the port of Dover every 24 hours.

Much of the trade passing through the Channel ports consists of perishable goods which need to reach their destination quickly.