More areas of the country are set to be moved into Tier 4 this week, with up to two thirds of England likely to enter the toughest restrictions.
Whitehall sources suggested that millions more would fall under the rules when area banding is reviewed on Wednesday, with “sizeable chunks” of the Midlands and the North expected to enter the highest tier.
The Government has not ruled out tougher new “Tier 5” restrictions, which could close schools and universities, or the prospect of a new national lockdown in January. However, a Whitehall source said that, in the “immediate future” the expansion of Tier 4 was more likely.
Sir Jeremy Farrar, the director of the Wellcome Trust and a member of Sage, told the Today programme that he also did not believe the one million weekly vaccination target would be enough to combat the spread of the virus.
“If we do manage to hit the target of one million a week, frankly I don’t think that is enough,” he told the Today Programme. “We are going to have to speed that up if we want to get the country covered.”
A Government source insisted there were detailed plans for the roll-out of the vaccine and said they expected “hundreds more sites through the primary care network and anticipate the volumes we have been doing to be accelerated should Astra Zeneca come online”.
Senior Tory MPs told The Telegraph that discussion about the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on the MPs’ health WhatsApp group said “approval is expected this week”.
Calum Semple, professor of outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool and a member of Sage, said such a ruling would be a “game changer”, but warned that rolling out the vaccine would be likely to “take us right into the summer”.
Prof Semple told BBC Breakfast: “To get the wider community herd immunity from vaccination rather than through natural infection will take probably 70 per cent to 80 per cent of the population to be vaccinated, and that, I’m afraid, is going to take us right into the summer, I expect.”
A Government spokesman said: “The UK was the first country in the world to start a vaccination programme using the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, and because of our swift and decisive action there has been a regular and steady supply of vaccine doses arriving into the UK since early December.
“Our brilliant NHS has now vaccinated over 600,000 people against Covid-19, and over the coming weeks and months the rate of vaccination will increase as millions more doses become available and the programme continues to expand.”