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Deadliest day yet as top medic joins the front line… but Covid cases starting to fall

IT WAS all hands to the pump as Jonathan Van-Tam joined the battle to vaccinate Britain — as it suffered the deadliest day of the pandemic so far.

The deputy chief medical officer (top) — famed for his no-nonsense approach at Downing Street briefings — volunteered to give jabs during his spare time.

With 2.6million now immunised and cases down 15,000 in a week, Boris Johnson yesterday hailed ‘beginnings of some signs’ lockdown was working.

He insisted: ‘It is early days and people must keep their discipline, enforcing the rules, and working together to roll out that vaccine programme.’

Hope: PM Boris Johnson yesterday PICTURE: GETTY

But hope was tempered with the emergence of a new Brazilian strain of Covid-19 and by news of 1,564 deaths yesterday — the highest daily total yet.

Yvonne Doyle, of Public Health England, said: ‘There have now been more deaths in the second wave than the first. It is essential that we stay at home, minimise contact with others and act as if you have the virus.’

The deaths took Britain’s official toll to 84,767. But analysis of Office for National Statistics data by the Press Association and The Guardian suggests cases where coronavirus contributed to death could be as high as 100,000.

The prime minister yesterday refused calls for stricter measures after a further clampdown in Scotland, where first minister Nicola Sturgeon banned outdoor drinking in badly hit areas and cut click and collect to essential items.

And he hinted: ‘The priority is to get schools open but it is far, far too early to say whether we can see any relaxation in the middle of February.’

But he warned lockdown could also get tougher first — if new variants from Brazil and South Africa arrived here.

All travellers arriving in the UK from tomorrow will need evidence of a negative test within the last 72 hours.

The PM also promised some vaccination centres would be open 24 hours, seven days a week, to meet demand.

Prof Van-Tam wore a mask and scrubs as he spent two days of his time off working at a new hub in Nottingham. He told volunteers and staff: ‘Your contribution makes a positive difference.’

AstraZeneca boss Tom Keith-Roach yesterday assured MPs 2million doses a week of the Oxford vaccine would be ready by mid-February, but said he was told the delivery schedule was secret.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi was ridiculed for his secrecy bid but insisted national security was at stake.

‘The whole world is looking to acquire vaccines at the moment,’ he told the Commons science committee.

‘The more we show off about how many vaccines we receive, the more difficult life becomes for manufacturers.’

But chair Greg Clark told him: ‘They’re not going to zoom into the country and confiscate them. Treating people as adults has served us well so far.’

At the first prime minister’s questions since December 16, Sir Keir Starmer clashed with Mr Johnson, telling him lockdown had come too late.

‘He told us then that there was no need for “endless lockdowns” and no need to change the rules about Christmas mixing,’ the Labour leader said.

‘Since that last PMQs, 17,000 people have died of Covid, 60,000 people have been admitted to hospital, and there have been over 1million new cases.’

Hospitalisations and new cases have started falling in London and eastern England but Mr Johnson admitted there was still a ‘very substantial risk’ of the NHS being overwhelmed.