British PM Boris Johnson pledges vaccine programme will run 24-7 'as soon as we can'

Britain's coronavirus vaccine programme will operate around the clock seven days a week "as soon as we can," Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged as the UK accelerates efforts to inoculate millions of its most vulnerable people against coronavirus.

Ambulances queue at the Royal London Hospital in London during England's third national lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus. Source: Associated Press

Johnson said "at the moment, the limit is on supply" of the vaccines rather than on the ability of the country's health service to deliver jabs quickly.

The push to inoculate millions quickly comes as a more contagious variant of Covid-19 is sweeping across Britain and driving hospitals to their breaking points.

His comments came as the government said 1,564 more people had died within 28 days of testing positive, the highest figure reported in Britain on a single day since the pandemic began. Britain already had Europe's highest Covid-19 death toll.

The UK is under an indefinite national lockdown to curb the spread of the new variant, with nonessential shops, gyms and hairdressers closed, most people working from home and schools largely offering remote learning. But some are calling for even tougher measures.

The UK government has set a goal of delivering the first vaccine dose to everyone over age 70, as well as frontline health care workers, nursing home residents and anyone whose health makes them especially vulnerable to the virus, by the middle of February. That's more than 15 million people.

Vaccinations will be given at hundreds of doctors' offices and community pharmacies, 50 mass vaccination sites at convention centres and sports stadiums, as well as at 223 hospitals.

Britain is already using the Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca and has approved one made by Moderna, but that one is not expected to be delivered until spring.

The government is desperately trying to protect people with vaccines before hospitals are overwhelmed with cases of the new, more infections virus variant.

Johnson said "the risk is very substantial" of intensive care capacity being outstripped. He said hospitals in England were treating about 32,000 Covid-19 patients, about 70 per cent more than during the first peak in April.

He said there are "some early signs" that recent lockdown measures were reducing transmission of the virus, but it was "far, far too early" to ease the restrictions.

England's health care system may move patients into hotels to ease the pressure on hospitals struggling to handle rising Covid-19 admissions.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that the National Health Service was looking at ways to reduce the strain on hospitals, including moving patients to hotels when appropriate.

"We would only ever do that if it was clinically the right thing for somebody," Hancock told Sky News. "In some cases, people need sit-down care, they don't actually need to be in a hospital bed."