The government is “absolutely confident” the UK will have 800,000 coronavirus vaccine doses by next week, when the vaccination programme starts, the business secretary has said.

Alok Sharma said some of the Pfizer/BioNTech doses had arrived, with more expected by the end of the year.

He was unable to say how many that will be.

NHS Providers said the UK must work on the basis that more doses beyond this might not arrive “for some time”.

Chief executive Chris Hopson tweeted that it was “vital” hospitals sought to vaccinate as many people as possible in the highest priority groups when vaccinations begin on Tuesday.

He added that with “every day that goes past, we become more confident we will get a lot more [doses] and get them soon”.

It comes as official data showed infection levels were falling in all English regions, except the North East.

The first consignment of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus arrived in the UK on Thursday, though the number of doses has not been confirmed.

Asked about whether the 800,000 doses the UK is expecting in the coming days will arrive by next week, Mr Sharma told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We will have – I’m absolutely confident – that we will have 800,000 doses available at the point next week when we start the vaccination programme.

“Of course, by the end of this year we will expect some more doses to come through – I can’t give you a number on that.”

The UK has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine – enough to vaccinate 20 million people.

Elderly people in care homes and care home staff have been placed top of the priority list – which is recommended by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation – followed by over-80s and frontline health and care staff.

Mr Sharma reiterated that the bulk of the vaccination programme would be carried out next year, adding that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) was also reviewing the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.