The UK was the first country in the world to get a vaccine approved and we have already vaccinated around 2 million of the most vulnerable people. That is more people than all 27 EU member states put together and it is one of the most anywhere in the world, after just a handful of countries like America and Israel.
With the approval of the British-designed Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, as well as the Pfizer vaccine, and most recently a third vaccine (Moderna), we will be able to ramp up vaccinations and the Prime Minister is hopeful for a return to some normality by Easter.
Our aim is to vaccinate 13.9 million people (the top four priority groups identified by the independent experts at JCVI) by mid-February.
On a video conferencing call with Northamptonshire Healthcare leaders last week, including the Chief Executive of NHS Northamptonshire, I was pleased to hear that the roll-out in Northamptonshire is going well and is being ramped-up every week.
The spread of the pandemic has meant the government has had to increase restrictions in order to save lives and protect the NHS. I very much hope that these vaccine developments, coupled with our much-grown testing capacity, which now stands at over 700,000 per day, schools will begin to reopen after the February half-term and we can slowly loosen restrictions.
Whilst restrictions are regrettably very necessary, I am very pleased that the Government has provided an additional £4.6billion in new lockdown grants, with businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure industries being entitled to claim up to £9,000 per property, and hundreds of millions of pounds to support other impacted businesses, which is of course in addition to the extension of the furlough scheme until the end of April.
The Prime Minister has vowed the NHS, HM Armed Forces, local and regional government, and indeed government at every level are working round the clock and flat out in the race to get millions of new vaccines into the arms of the most vulnerable and those who need them most. Daily figures are now being published on the number of administered vaccine doses and I am optimistic that, as a result, we can return to more normal times in the not-so-distant future.
The UK has contributed unprecedented sums towards finding treatments and vaccines for COVID-19 and we will continue maximum effort to save lives and return to a more normal life. The UK has also had the world’s first successful drug trial, identifying the low-cost drug, dexamethasone, which reduces death in hospitalised patients with severe respiratory complications by up to one third. Similarly, in recent days, thanks to yet another breakthrough from UK science, UK clinical trials have shown the drugs tocilizumab and sarilumab can reduce the relative risk of death by 24%, when administered to patients within 24 hours of entering intensive care. Patients across the UK who are admitted to intensive care units due to COVID-19 are set to receive new life-saving treatments which can reduce the time spent in hospital by up to 10 days.
Without volunteers, such breakthroughs in vaccines and treatment would not be possible. Well in excess of 600,000 participants from across the UK have now taken part in public health research into the effects of, and treatment for, COVID-19 over the course of the last year.