IN a coronavirus briefing this evening, Boris Johnson said more than 1.3 million people have been vaccinated against Covid-19 across the UK.

The Prime Minister told a No 10 press conference the figures includes 650,000 people over the age of 80, which was 23 per cent of all the over 80s in England.

“That means nearly one-in-four of the most vulnerable groups will have in two to three weeks a significant degree of immunity,” he said.

“That is why I believe the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation was right to draw up a programme saving the most lives the fastest.”

An estimated 1 in 50 people in private households in England had Covid-19 between December 27 and January 2, the Office for National Statistics said.

An estimated 1.1 million people in private households in England had Covid-19 between December 27 and January 2, according to new figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

This is the equivalent of around 2.06 per cent of the population, or one in 50 people.

It represents a rise from 800,900 people, or one in 70, who were estimated to have Covid-19 in the period December 17 to 23.

The figures do not include people staying in hospitals, care homes or other institutional settings.

Professor Chris Whitty said that one in 50 people being estimated to have coronavirus across the UK is “really quite a large number indeed”.

England’s chief medical officer told the Downing Street press conference, citing ONS estimates, said that the second lockdown brought down rates.

“But then we had the problems with the new variant and the worst period of winter combining to lead to a significant increase since that time. And we’re now into a situation where, across the country as a whole, roughly one in 50 people have got the virus,” he continued.

“One in 50 is really quite a large number indeed.”

Professor Chris Whitty said Covid-19 hospitalisations across England are “rising very rapidly and, of course, we are still in the middle of winter”.

England’s chief medical officer told the Downing Street press conference that the fastest increase of the new variant is in the east of England, London and south-east, but it is “now taking off in other areas as well”.

Mr Johnson said he is sorry for the “extra anxiety” the pandemic is causing people with mental health conditions.

Asked by a member of the public how the Government is supporting people with severe mental health issues, the PM said: “We’ve put a huge amount obviously into NHS mental health care, I think about another £12 billion or so.”

He said some £20 million had gone into mental health care charities too.

Addressing the member of the public who said her mother has schizophrenia, he added: “Clearly the best thing for your mother and everybody is that we get through this as fast as possible.”

Mr Johnson said the Government will be looking at what arrangements universities are making for students advised not to return to their accommodation.

He said: “What we hope is that they (students) will get online learning that will allow them to continue with their degree courses, but clearly there are going to be issues to do with the cost of their accommodation that we will have to look at as a Government and see what arrangements the universities are making to deal with the reasonable concerns of many, many students.”

Mr Johnson said that in the days leading up to the lockdown announcement the Government had been looking at the new variant of coronavirus ever since it became aware of its rapid spread on December 18.

The Prime Minister said it was hoped that Tier 4 measures would have had an impact and allow for schools to be kept open.

Highlighting recent infection figures, he added: “It was clear that we got to a situation where Tier 4 on its own couldn’t be relied upon to get the virus under control and that’s without really going the whole way and asking people to stay at home and, sadly, to close schools as well. That’s why we took the step that we did.”

Prof Whitty said the UK’s chief medical officers met on Monday morning to review data and on the same day advised that the country should move to coronavirus alert level five.

Prof Whitty said the vaccine timetable was “realistic but not easy”.

He added: “The NHS is going to have to use multiple channels to get this out but they are very determined to do this, but that does not make it easy.

“And, of course, in the case of the Pfizer vaccine, as I think is widely reported, it’s more difficult to handle because of the complicated cold chain model.

“We also, with both vaccines, wanted to be very careful in the first two or three days that we went a little bit slowly just in case there were some initial unexpected problems.”

Professor Chris Whitty said that some restrictions may have to be brought back into place next winter to control the virus.

England’s chief medical officer told the Downing Street press conference: “If we did not do all the things all of us must now do, if people don’t take the stay at home seriously, the risk at this point in time, in the middle of winter with this new variant, is extraordinarily high.”

He said the risk level will gradually decrease over time with measures being “lifted by degrees possibly at different rates in different parts of the country, we’ll have to see”.

“We’ll then get over time to a point where people say this level of risk is something society is prepared to tolerate and lift right down to almost no restrictions at all,” he added.

“We might have to bring in a few in next winter for example, that’s possible, because winter will benefit the virus.”

Boris Johnson has said there is a “prospect” the coronavirus lockdown in England can be eased in mid-February.

The Prime Minister told a No 10 press conference: “When a very considerable proportion of the most vulnerable groups have been vaccinated … then there really is the prospect of beginning the relaxation of some of these measures.

“But you will also appreciate there are a lot of caveats, a lot of ifs built into that, the most important of which is that we all now follow the guidance.”

Professor Chris Whitty said that extending the gap between the first and second jabs would mean the number of people vaccinated can be doubled over three months.

“If over that period there is more than 50% protection then you have actually won. More people will have been protected than would have been otherwise,” he told a No 10 news conference.

“Our quite strong view is that protection is likely to be lot more than 50%.”