Covid: Stricter border controls, lockdown review and variants - what is happening this week with coronavirus?

The UK is on course to hit its vaccination target. Credit: PA

The UK has now been languishing in lockdown for more than a month, but with vaccines rising, cases falling and fears of dangerous variants spreading what's likely to happen this week?

Covid looks like it is slowly receding from the UK as the impact of full lockdown takes effect, but it's happening much slower than most would like.

Part of the reason for the slow decline in Covid cases compared to the previous lockdown is because of the more infectious Kent variant - and there are even more fears for the South African strain which has been detected in the UK.

But, on the other hand, the UK is vaccinating its population at one of the fastest rates in the world, so where are we heading next?

The next stage of the vaccine rollout

The government has hit its goal of vaccinating all of the people in the top four vaccine priority groups - 15 million people - by Monday.

Wales announced it was the first country in the UK to meet the target on Friday.

People aged 80+ who have received first dose of Covid-19 vaccine as of 11 February. Credit: PA

The NHS gave the go-ahead on Friday for GPs and other vaccine centres to begin contacting people aged between 65-69, if they have done all they can to contact and inoculate those in the top four priority groups.

On Monday Health Secretary Matt Hancock changed the advice, he said people over 70 should contact the NHS for a vaccine appointment, instead of waiting to be contacted.

Many areas of England have vaccinated more than 90% of people in the top four priority groups.

The top four groups are: all care home residents and staff working in care homes; all people over 80 and frontline health and social care workers; all those aged 75 and over and; all those aged over 70 and the most clinically extremely vulnerable.

They represent the vast majority of Covid-19 hospitalisations and deaths.Once over-65s have been vaccinated, the next priority groups are those over 16 with underlying health conditions, then the over-60s, the over-55s and the over-50s.

What about lockdown?

The government is due to review lockdown on February 22 so no immediate changes to the current rules are likely in the coming week.

However, next week will likely give an indication of the speed at which lockdown will be eased.

Covid-19 hospital admissions as of February 10. Credit: PA

While cases and hospitalisation are falling they are still stubbornly high compared to any other point in the pandemic.

On Friday it was revealed the R in the UK had fallen officially below 1 and was between 0.7-0.9.

The government has expanded testing capacity hugely in recent months, so it is likely the simple number of tests will result in a high number of positive results, but with cases still over 10,000 it's not likely anything will change soon.

It is possible next week we may begin to see glimpses of the impact of the vaccine, as enough vulnerable people will have had long enough to develop a level of immunity from their first jab.

Even if we do see a drop in hospitalistions the government's other fear is the spread of variants.

To date there has been no scientific evidence to suggest any known Covid variant is able to give a vaccinated person a severe disease but the possibility is what is leading to the government's worry.

While it is likely the government will remain cautious the PM is under pressure from his backbenches to lift lockdown quickly.

Boris Johnson has faced some pressure from members of his own party to lift lockdown as soon as possible. Credit: PA

With the date for the review looming it is likely we will see some discussion about any possible roadmap from the government and its top scientists.

Any lifting of lockdown is almost certain to start with the opening of schools, which has been suggested to start from March 8.

Dr Robin Thompson, Assistant Professor of Mathematical Epidemiology, University of Warwick told ITV News the government needed to make clear what the key objective was for ending lockdown.

He said: "Is the primary goal to minimise the number of interventions that are in place while keeping the R number below 1?

"Or is it instead to remove the most economically costly measures while ensuring that intensive care units are not overwhelmed?  

Hospitalisations have been falling across the UK Credit: PA

"Only once a clear objective is decided upon is it possible to begin to plan how lockdown can be released, since different objectives correspond to different optimal decisions.”

Changes at the border

While it is unlikely we will get any firm information on the easing of lockdown ahead of the review on February 22, the new rules at the borders will be coming into force on Monday.

From Monday, UK nationals or residents returning from 33 “red list” countries will be required to spend 10 days in a Government-designated hotel.

Passengers arriving into England face fines of up to £10,000 for failing to quarantine, and those who lie on their passenger locator forms face up to 10 years in jail.Police are being given extra funding to help enforce the measures at airports and hotels.