An estimated one in eight people in England had had Covid-19 by December last year, up from one in 11 in November, new figures show. Antibody data on infection in private households suggests that one in 10 in Wales had also been infected by December, alongside one in 13 in Northern Ireland and one in 11 in Scotland.
The figures come from the Office for National Statistic’s Covid-19 Infection Survey in partnership with the University of Oxford, University of Manchester, Public Health England and Wellcome Trust.
Last week, the Medical Research Council (MRC) Biostatistics Unit Covid-19 Working Group at Cambridge University said it believed the proportion of the population who have ever been infected was 30% in London, 26% in the North West and 21% in the North East.
This dropped to 13% in the South East and 8% in the South West.
It came as some family doctors continue to express their frustration about the rollout of vaccines across the UK.
With more than half of the over-80s and half of elderly care home residents having received the jab, ministers have now given the go-ahead to begin vaccinating the next priority groups – the over-70s and the clinically extremely vulnerable.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said “there will be an overlap” between those in the first group getting their jab and those in the second as the NHS keeps up the momentum of the vaccine rollout.
He told LBC radio:
“We’re very clear that areas should be getting through the majority of the first cohort before they move on to the second cohort, but there will be an overlap.
“The reality is, as you’re moving through these, as you start to bring the second cohort in, there will be a bit of an overlap.
“So, while they’re still finishing cohort one, some people from the second cohort will be having their vaccines and being contacted.
“That’s understandable because the other alternative is you get through cohort one and you pause before you can start getting cohort two in and that would be wrong.
“In order to keep things flowing and moving we will see some overlap, but areas should be getting through the majority of cohort one before they start moving to cohort two.”
On Monday night, Health Secretary Matt Hancock acknowledged that some parts of the country had made better progress than others in vaccinating those in the top priority group, but said more supplies of the vaccine are being pumped to areas that have fallen behind.
“We’re prioritising the supply of the vaccine into those parts of the country that need to complete the over-80s”, adding: “But we don’t want to stop the areas that have effectively done that job already.”
Some GPs have taken to social media saying they are “crying out for more vaccines” and that their elderly patients want to be vaccinated in local surgeries rather than having to travel further afield to mass centres.
The number of people in the UK receiving their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine has now passed four million and the Government is on track to vaccinate around 15 million high-priority people across the UK by February 15.
Once those vaccines have taken effect, around two to three weeks later ministers will consider whether lockdown measures can be eased in England.
Despite pressure from Tory MPs to move as quickly as possible, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned there will be no “open sesame” moment when restrictions will all be lifted together.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Mr Lewis said it is “too early” to outline how the national lockdown will be eased in England.
“I’m afraid it’s still a bit early to outline that at the moment. The Prime Minister said when we put these restrictions in place that we’d have a review point in mid-February; we’re still some weeks away even from that review point.
“I think we’ve got to wait until we get to that point and see where we’re at, see how the vaccine programme is rolling out, see how the restrictions have worked and then we can look at what the next steps are.
“But whether that’s in February or whether we move forward in March, it’s just too early now in relatively early January to give an outline to that.”
Elsewhere, Professor Janet Lord, director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing at the University of Birmingham, urged caution among those who have been vaccinated.
Asked whether people who have received the jab can hug their children, she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:
“I would certainly advise not to do that at the moment because, as you probably know, with the vaccines they take several weeks before they are maximally effective.
“It’s really important that people stay on their guard even if they’ve had that first vaccination.”
She also warned against the idea of a coronavirus immunity passport until more is known about transmission of the virus among those who have been vaccinated.
“People might think (it is a) passport to freedom and even those who haven’t been vaccinated will see those changing their behaviours and think ‘Well, why should I bother if no-one else is either?’,” she said.
“That’s the real worry we’ve got at the moment.”
However, Professor Julian Savulescu, director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, said those who have proven immunity should not be restrained.
“There’s a serious ethical issue that you’re only entitled to restrict people’s liberty in a liberal society if they represent a threat to other people,” he told the Today programme.
“Carrying a virus is like carrying a loaded gun that can go off accidentally.
“We’re entitled to restrain people and check whether they have a gun, but, if they don’t have a gun, to restrain them, that’s false imprisonment.”
He added that efforts should be made to allow those with “certain immunity” to return to work and normal life.
Published: 19/01/2021 by Radio NewsHub