NATIONAL lockdown restrictions are unlikely to start to be eased before early March, the vaccines Minister has said.

Nadhim Zahawi told BBC Breakfast a gradual easing of coronavirus restrictions was still some way off despite the ramping up of the vaccination programme.

He said: “If we take the mid-February target, two weeks after that you get your protection, pretty much, for the Pfizer/BioNTech, three weeks for the Oxford/AstraZeneca, you are protected.

“One of the things we don’t know yet, and the deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam is on record as saying ‘look give me a couple of months and I’ll tell you’, is the impact of the vaccine on transmission rates ie on infecting people.

“So there are a number of caveats that stand in the way of us reopening the economy.

“It will be gradually, it will be probably through the tiered system but you’re looking at that sort of period, two to three weeks after the middle of February, after we’ve protected the top four cohorts.”

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Mr Zahawi said vaccine supply “remains challenging” and is the limiting factor in the rollout of coronavirus jabs.

He said: “We now have built a deployment infrastructure that can deploy as much vaccine as it comes through.

“And so it’s the vaccine supply – which remains lumpy, it remains challenging, you may have read over the weekend probably some of the challenges around Pfizer and of course Oxford/AstraZeneca – but I’m confident we can meet our target mid-Feb, (for) those top four cohorts.”

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Meanwhile experts says the Covid-19 mass vaccine programme will not have an impact on hospital admissions or death rates until “well into February".

Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director for the NHS in England, told Good Morning Britain infection rates in London had “slowed down” but there was “less of a slowdown” in the rest of the country.

But he suggested there were “early signs” that the lockdown had begun to take effect, although added this will take a week or two to “feed through into hospital admissions, and to begin to take pressure off hospitals”.

“For the next few weeks and into February, it’s really important that everybody sticks to those social distancing guidelines,” he said.

“The vaccine programme gives us hope, but it’s not going to impact on deaths or hospital admissions until well into February.”