More than 18.6 million people have now had their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine in the UK, and second jabs have hit 700,000.
Meanwhile, there have been another 323 deaths and 9,985 confirmed cases.
The total number of first doses has hit 18,691,835 – a rise of 448,962. It’s the highest rise in vaccinations so far this week after what had been a slight drop-off in the number of jabs being administered.
And 700,718 people have now had their second jab – up by 31,613, which is a record rise.
The pace of the vaccine rollout and downward trend in infections and deaths means the UK’s four chief medical officers (CMOs) have agreed that the nationwide alert level should move from level five – the highest – to level four.
It follows advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and “in light of the most recent data”, they said.
Moving to level four means healthcare services are no longer at risk of being overwhelmed within 21 days.
The CMOs said: “The health services across the four nations remain under significant pressure with a high number of patients in hospital, however thanks to the efforts of public we are now seeing numbers consistently declining, and the threat of the NHS and other health services being overwhelmed within 21 days has receded.
“We should be under no illusions – transmission rates, hospital pressures and deaths are still very high. In time, the vaccines will have a major impact and we encourage everyone to get vaccinated when they receive the offer.
“However for the time being it is really important that we all – vaccinated or not – remain vigilant and continue to follow the guidelines.
“We know how difficult the situation has been and remains to be for healthcare workers, we thank them for their immense effort, skill and professionalism throughout the pandemic.”
Meanwhile, it has been revealed police have handed out nearly 70,000 fines to people for breaching coronavirus lockdown rules since they came into force, with more than 6,000 issued in a single week.
Figures published by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) on Thursday show that a total of 68,952 Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) were issues by forces.
Of this figure, 63,201 fines were handed out in England and 5,751 in Wales between 27 March last year and 14 February.
And ahead of the long-awaited return to the classroom on 8 March, the prime minister said allowing teachers to award grades to pupils this summer is “as good a compromise as we can come to”.
Boris Johnson described this year’s system of awarding A-level and GCSE grades in England – as well as some vocational and technical qualifications – as “durable” and the “right way forward”.
With the government aiming to avoid a repeat of last year’s grades scandal – which saw a moderating algorithm ditched after widespread complaints it unfairly downgraded pupils’ grades – teachers have been told to base students’ grades on a range of evidence.
This includes mock exams, coursework, essays and in-class tests.