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All over-18s in England able to book jab from Friday – as Whitty warns of ‘surprises’ ahead

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Everyone aged 18 and over will be able to book their COVID-19 vaccine in England from Friday.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock made the announcement during a speech in which he praised the vaccination programme as “an incredible achievement”.

It comes as coronavirus cases are said to be “rising exponentially” across England, with the latest estimates putting the R number at 1.44.

The number of COVID-19 infections is doubling every 11 days, according to data from the REACT-1 study by scientists at Imperial College London, who said their findings showed a “rapid switch” from the Alpha (Kent) variant to the Delta variant, first detected in India.

The research found the exponential increase in prevalence is being driven by infections among younger people.

And the latest weekly surveillance report from Public Health England (PHE) shows coronavirus case rates in all regions of England are continuing to rise.

PHE said infections among all age groups are going up, with the highest rate among 20 to 29-year-olds, where there were 195.9 cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to 13 June.

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That compares with 123.6 the week before.

The second highest rate is among 10 to 19-year-olds, up from 100.3 to 143.3, while for people aged 60 and over the rate is just 14.3, up from 10.6.

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has warned COVID-19 “has not thrown its last surprise at us and there will be several more over the next period”.

Speaking at the NHS Confed Conference, he said he is anticipating case rates will continue to go up in the next few weeks due to Delta being “significantly more transmissible” than Alpha.

He said: “In terms of the medium term, my expectation is that we will get a further winter surge, late autumn/winter surge.

“And that is because we know that winter and autumn favour respiratory viruses, and therefore it’d be very surprising if this particular highly transmissible respiratory virus was not also favoured.”

Prof Whitty said there is currently a “further surge” of the virus, adding: “I think the height of that surge is still uncertain and we’ll have to see how this goes over the next several weeks.

“But that will definitely translate into further hospitalisations and, unfortunately, it will undoubtedly translate into further deaths.”

Mr Hancock also addressed the conference, saying: “As of this afternoon we have given a first dose of vaccine to four out of every five adults in the United Kingdom.

“And the speed of deployment means that tomorrow we can open vaccination to everyone over the age of 18.

“I think it’s an incredible achievement on the vaccination side.”

In Northern Ireland and Wales, the COVID vaccination programme is already open to those aged 18 and over.

In Scotland, over-30s are eligible, but in specific areas of Glasgow affected by the current outbreak all 18 to 39 year olds are now being invited.