UK minister hopes teachers will be prioritised for vaccines

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Britain’s education minister Gavin Williamson said on Thursday he hoped that teachers would be “up the list” for receiving a COVID-19 vaccine when the first wave of vaccinations is completed.

Britain aims to give shots to 15 million people by mid-February, including the eldest, most vulnerable and frontline health staff, and there have been calls for workers such as teachers and police officers to be prioritised in the second wave of shots.

“We very much hope that, you know, the vital important work that teachers and teaching staff, and support staff do, I would very much like to them up that list,” Williamson told BBC TV. 

The education minister also said England’s lockdown is having some impact in reducing pressure on the National Health Service,  as Britain tries to stem a deadly winter wave of the coronavirus.

Britain posted a fresh record in daily deaths on Wednesday, figures Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called “appalling”, adding that by reducing infections, the number of deaths should come down too.

A prevalence survey from Imperial College London suggested infections had not fallen in the first days of lockdown, though the government has said that the impact of national restrictions introduced on Jan. 5 is not reflected in the numbers.

While deaths have been rising, the number of new cases has fallen from a peak of 68,000 on Jan 8 to 38,000.

“The evidence that we’ve been seeing is that it’s actually, it has been having an impact in terms of relieving some of that pressure on the NHS,” Williamson told Sky News, adding that the government looked at all evidence available.

England’s third national lockdown has seen bars, restaurants and most schools close, and allowing only essential shops to open.

The lockdown is expected to run until at least mid-February. Williamson said that the government would prioritise re-opening schools, which would have two weeks notice before restarting.

Ministers have appealed to people to stay at home as much as they can to prevent hospitals being overwhelmed and to give authorities time to roll out COVID-19 vaccines to the elderly and those at highest risk.

But the pandemic is adding to winter pressures on the health service, with the government’s top scientific adviser describing some hospitals as looking like a war zone.

Joe Harrison, chief executive of Milton Keynes University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said the hospital had seen more than twice the number of patients in the second wave than the first, and currently had 186 patients with COVID-19.

“We believe that over the next week or so, we’re going to continue to see real pressures in our critical care unit,” he told Reuters. “And then hopefully we will turn the corner and things will start to improve.”

Main Photo: Clinicians prepare the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at a vaccination centre in Salisbury Cathedral in Salisbury, Britain. EPA-EFE/NEIL HALL

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