Boris Johnson has strongly hinted that many regions will have to stay under tough Covid rules until at least March despite signs of a vaccine on the horizon.

He told a Downing Street press conference that ‘things will look and feel very different’ after Easter, by which time the most vulnerable people are expected to have been inoculated.

But he warned the months ahead ‘will be hard, they will be cold, they include January and February when the NHS is under its greatest pressure’, adding: ‘We’re not out of the woods yet’.

The new tier system set to replace national lockdown measures from December 2 is expected to place more areas under tougher restrictions than the previous regime.

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Speaking from video-link as he continued his self-isolation period, the prime minister said: ‘We can hear the drumming hooves of the cavalry coming over the brow of the hill but they are not here yet.

‘Even if all three vaccines are approved, even if the production timetables are met – and vaccines notoriously fall behind in their production timetables – it will be months before we can be sure we have inoculated everyone that needs a vaccine.’

He warned that ‘this is not the moment to let the virus rip for the sake of Christmas parties’.

Optimism for the prospects of a successful vaccination programme rose earlier today when Oxford University and AstraZeneca their jab proved 70 per cent effective in preliminary results.

Health experts say this makes it as effective as the common flu jab, while the researchers developing it say the rate can be boosted to 90 per cent with the right dosing.

Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines have demonstrated around 95 per cent efficacy, although the Oxford jab is considerably cheaper and easier to distribute.

Mr Johnson said the ‘vast majority of people who need a vaccine will have it by Easter’.

Until then, England is likely remain subject to the new tier system, which is expected to bring more areas under the higher levels of restrictions.

In areas under the new Tier 2 rules, alcohol may only be served in hospitality settings as part of a substantial meal.

In Tier 3, pubs and restaurants will only be allowed to open for takeaway and delivery services, while indoor entertainment, hotels and other accommodation will close.

Meanwhile the previous 10pm curfew for pubs and restrictions has been pushed back to 11pm.

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