PM says Covid-19 cases 'still alarmingly high' despite vaccine milestone

3 February 2021, 21:24

By Maddie Goodfellow

Boris Johnson has warned that coronavirus infections remain "alarmingly high" and the NHS is still under "huge pressure", despite promising vaccination data.

The Prime Minister praised the "colossal" effort of health workers who have helped vaccinate more than 10 million people against Covid-19 in the UK.

But he said: "Though today there are some signs of hope - the numbers of Covid patients in hospital are beginning to fall for the first time since the onset of this new wave - the level of infection is still alarmingly high.

"The wards of our NHS are under huge pressure with more than 32,000 Covid patients still in hospital."

Mr Johnson, addressing a Downing Street press conference, said vaccines appear to reduce death and serious illness from the main strains of coronavirus.

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England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said that while the number of people in hospital with coronavirus has "quite noticeably" reduced, it is still above that of the first peak in April last year.

"The number of people in hospital with Covid has now gone down from its peak, quite noticeably...

"But as the Prime Minister said, there are still a very large number of people in hospital, and more people than there were in the first peak in April last year.

"So this is still a very major problem, but it is one that is heading the right way."

Prof Whitty said the number of deaths would "stay high for quite some time".

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Boris Johnson also insisted that it is "prudent" to stick to the planned March 8 opening date for schools in England, despite coming under pressure from his own MPs to speed up the process.

The Prime Minister said the proposed date was three weeks after the most vulnerable should have been vaccinated, giving time for immunity to kick in.

But Mr Johnson said that the Government would be sticking with its own "cautious" approach.

"What we don't want to do now that we are making progress with the vaccine rollout and we have got a timetable for the way ahead, we don't want to be forced into reverse," he said.

"We think this is the prudent and cautious approach. I think it is much better to stick to that."

Professor Whitty said schools in England had been managing to "hold the line" and remain open up until the new, more transmissible variant of the virus hit.

"The rates are now coming down but they are still incredibly high," he said.

"If we were to start take-off again from the very high levels we are at the moment, the NHS will get back into trouble extraordinarily fast."

But Prof Whitty said schools are a safe place for children to be.

He said it was up to ministers to decide the opening dates for schools but that he was confident the risk to children of getting Covid-19 is "incredibly low".