Boris Johnson said scientists had performed “biological jiu jitsu” to turn the virus on itself and he was now “sure and certain” that life could start returning to normal in 2021.

Speaking at tonight's Downing Street press conference, the Prime Minister said the “searchlights of science” had picked out the “invisible enemy” as he welcomed the approval of the vaccine.

It comes after the first vaccine from Pfizer/BioNTech was approved for clinical use by regulators, making the UK the first country in the world with a clinically approved vaccine ready to roll out.

The PM said the NHS would now embark on the the “biggest programme of mass vaccination in the history of the UK” from next week.

The first coronavirus vaccine doses will be given to patients at around 50 hospital hubs, including two in Lancashire.

However he warned it will take several "long, cold months" for the Covid-19 vaccine to protect the most vulnerable.

The head of NHS England Sir Simon Stevens said people over 80-years-old and care home staff will be able to get the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine at hospitals from next week.

GP surgeries will then begin operating as local vaccination centres in the coming weeks, with plans for 1,000 hubs across England.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Chief Executive of the National Health Service, Simon Stevens, and Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Jonathan Van Tam

The press conference also heard updates on when students should return to university, hospitality restrictions over Christmas and the possibility of tiers after February 3.

Here are some of the key points and announcements from today's press conference:

"Biological jiu jitsu”

Boris Johnson said the “searchlights of science” had picked out the “invisible enemy” as he welcomed the approval of a coronavirus vaccine.

He said scientists had performed “biological jiu jitsu” to turn the virus on itself.

At the Downing Street press conference he said the NHS would now embark on the the “biggest programme of mass vaccination in the history of the UK” from next week.

"Immense logistical challenges"

The PM acknowledged there were “immense logistical challenges” in distributing the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

He said: “It will inevitably take some months before all the most vulnerable are protected – long, cold months.

“So it’s all the more vital that as we celebrate this scientific achievement we are not carried away with over-optimism or fall into the naive belief that the struggle is over.”

“Weeks, months of work to go” before restrictions can be eased

Mr Johnson said there are “weeks, months of work to go” before restrictions can be eased.

He said: “Clearly as we go on in the next weeks and months and hopefully we’re able to use testing and the vaccine to drive it down… I suppose there will come a moment when… if you imagine the graph of immunised, vaccinated, inoculated people going up one way there will come a moment when we’re able obviously to start to relax the non-pharmaceutical interventions all the things that… are so difficult will be able to steadily, we hope, to take those off just as community testing… we hope will allow us to come down the tiering scales.

“But we’re not there yet and I’ve got to stress that. This is theoretical and we have got to wait and see how fast we can vaccinate people. It’s weeks, months of work to go before we’re in that situation.”

Tiers could continue beyond February 3

The PM said England’s tiered restrictions would continue to play a very important role as he hinted they would continue beyond their current February 3 cut-off.

He acknowledged the measures were tough and “we deeply, deeply regret” the impact on the hospitality industry.

Asked whether he expected the measures to be rolled over, he told the press conference: “We will judge the situation … on the basis of the data.

“But I think, for the time being, you have got to take it that tiering is going to be a very, very important part of our campaign against coronavirus.

“It’s absolutely vital that people stick to the guidance and follow the rules.”

"Sure and certain" life will return to normal in 2021

Despite warning against over-optimism, Mr Johnson said it was now “sure and certain” that life could start returning to normal in 2021.

A combination of community testing, vaccines and social distancing measures were still necessary, he told the press conference.

He said “As we do all this we are no longer resting on the mere hope that we can return to normal next year, in the spring, but rather the sure and certain knowledge that we will succeed and together reclaim our lives and all the things about our lives that we love.”

Bulk of vaccinations in January to March/April

Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said the bulk of vaccinations will take place in “January through to March or April for the at-risk population”.

He said: “Supplies from the manufacturer are phased so the initial tranche in December is going to enable us to get started but the bulk of this vaccination programme, either through this vaccine, or hopefully others as well that will join it, will take place in the period January through to March or April for the at-risk population.

“The majority of the early vaccinations will, as I say, be for the over-80s and for care home residents and since you need two jabs with an initial injection and then a booster given to you around 21 days apart that means that we’ve got to reserve the second dose for the people who are getting the first dose in December to make sure that that second dose is available for them.”

Vaccine rollout will start at 50 "hospital hubs"

Mr Stevens said the vaccine rollout will start at 50 “hospital hubs” in England next week.

He said: “The vaccine that has been approved for the NHS to deploy today, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, has been independently shown to be medically safe, but it is logistically complicated.

“We have to move it around the country in a carefully controlled way initially at minus 70 degrees centigrade, or thereabouts, and there are a limited number of further movements that we are allowed by the regulator to make.

“It also comes in packs of 975 people’s doses so you can’t at this point just distribute it to every individual GP surgery or pharmacy as we normally would for many of the other vaccines available on the NHS.

“So the phasing of delivery, the way we will do it, is that next week around 50 hospital hubs across England will start offering the vaccine to the over-80s and to care home staff and others identified by the JCVI typically they may be people who were already down to come into hospital next week for an outpatient appointment.

“So if you are going to be one of those people next week or in the weeks that follow the hospital will get in touch with you, you don’t need to do anything about it yourself.”

Deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said: “We have to be realistic about how long this is going to take.

“It is going to take months, not weeks.

“And, for now, the other measures, the tier measures, the social distancing have to stay in place.

“If we relax too soon, if we just, kind of, go ‘oh, the vaccine’s here, let’s abandon caution’, all you are going to do is create a tidal wave of infections.

“And this vaccine has then got to work in a head wind to get back ahead of the game. And that will make it harder.”

Care home difficulties

Mr Johnson set out the difficulties faced in getting the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine into care homes.

He told the press conference: “Of course we want to get it into care homes to protect the most vulnerable as fast as we possibly can.”

But “the difficulty is in distributing the cases to care homes” as each case contains 975 vaccines and there is a need to avoid wastage.

The regulator MHRA has not yet authorised “the people who would be transporting the vaccine to the care homes to be able to affect the division themselves”.

There was a risk the vaccine could “degenerate” if it was “improperly handled”.

Mr Johnson said: “Our objective must be to use the vaccine stocks that we have to protect those who are most likely not just to fall ill but to succumb to the disease.”

But NHS are "raring to go" this month

Mr Stevens said the NHS was “raring to go” to vaccinate people in care homes, hopefully this month.

He said: “Just as soon as we have the regulatory sign-off that we can do that, that we can get the jabs to the care homes so that the GPs and the nurses can arrive and give the care home residents that Covid vaccination, we will do that.

“We – at this point, with a fair wind, fully expect that that will be in the first tranche of priorities for vaccination during this month.”

Vaccine 'not a yoghurt'

Prof Van-Tam said the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was a “complex product with a very fragile cold chain”.

“It’s not a yoghurt that can be taken out of the fridge and put back in multiple times,” he told a Downing Street press conference.

“It’s really tricky to handle.”

Pharmacies could start vaccinating in January

Mr Stevens said pharmacies could be able to start vaccinating in January.

He said: “That will be followed in the subsequent weeks with GP practices coming together in each area to operate local vaccination centres and that will grow to over 1,000 places right across England where GPs will be in touch with their at-risk patients inviting people to come forward for vaccination.”

He added: “If the MHRA, the independent regulator, as we expect they will, give approval for a safe way of splitting these packs of 975 doses then the good news is we will be able to start distributing those to care homes.

“And then as even more vaccine becomes available finally we will be able to switch on large vaccination centres across the country and indeed invite local community pharmacists probably at the beginning of January to begin to offer vaccination as well.”

Universities should stagger post-Christmas return

Universities should stagger the return of students over five weeks after the Christmas break to reduce the transmission of Covid-19, the Government has said.

All students should be offered coronavirus tests when they return to university to help identify and isolate those who are asymptomatic, according to the Department for Education (DfE) guidance.

The Government has also announced a one-off fund of up to £20 million to help students most in need of support in these exceptional circumstances.

"It’s going to be with humankind forever"

Prof Van-Tam said: “I don’t think we are going to eradicate coronavirus ever.

“I think it’s going to be with humankind forever.

“I think we may get to a point where coronavirus becomes a seasonal problem.

“I don’t want to draw too many parallels with ‘flu, but, possibly, that is the kind of way we would learn to live with it.

He added: "Do I think there will come a big moment where we have a massive party and throw our masks and hand sanitiser and say ‘that’s it, it’s behind us’, like the end of the war? No, I don’t.

“I think those kind of habits that we have learned from… will, perhaps persist for many years, and that may be a good thing if they do.”

Mr Johnson responded, saying: “And, maybe… on the other hand, we may want to get back to life as pretty much as close to normal.”

Hospitality restrictions will stay in place over the Christmas “relaxation” period

The prime minister said that hospitality restrictions would have to stay in place over the Christmas “relaxation” period and that it would be a “fatal mistake” to let caution slip.

“I’m sorry to say we have got to stick with the guidance that we have set out, the tiering system throughout the Christmas period,” he said.

“It would be a really fatal mistake now to respond to this good news by letting the virus run riot again, letting it get out of control by too much transmission over Christmas.

“That’s why we have to stick very tightly to the tiers that we have set out.”

Government to release update on 2021 exams

Mr Johnson said more details would be released by the Government on Thursday to address concerns over examinations in 2021.

“We want exams to go ahead, they are very important,” he said, responding to a question from year 13 student Dhillon from Wandsworth, south London.

“We will also be setting out some ways in which we are going to help pupils to do them next summer given the exceptional circumstances that the country finds itself in and given that so many pupils have had their education disrupted by the pandemic.”

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