The NHS is ready to start providing the new coronavirus vaccine “as fast as safely possible”, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said.

Asked whether it could be available by Christmas, he said that was “absolutely a possibility” – but he expected the mass roll-out “in the first part of next year”.

Mr Hancock said vaccination clinics would be open seven days a week, and he was giving GPs an extra £150m.

But he urged people to be patient.

“We just don’t know” how many people will need to be vaccinated before life can return to normal, Mr Hancock added.

He also said new rapid tests – which give results in less than an hour – will be made available across 66 local areas, after they were used in a mass testing trial in Liverpool.

It comes as figures showed the number of people dying continued to be above normal levels for this time of year, with 1,597 deaths mentioning Covid on the death certificate in the last week of October – up from 1,126 the week before.

On Monday, early results from the world’s first effective coronavirus vaccine showed it could prevent more than 90% of people from getting Covid.

The vaccine – called an RNA vaccine – has been developed by pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech and is one of 11 vaccines that are currently in the final stages of testing.

The companies now plan to apply for emergency approval to use the vaccine by the end of November – and a limited number of people may get the vaccine this year.

The UK has already ordered 40 million doses – enough to vaccinate up to 20 million people as each person will need two doses for it to work effectively.

But Boris Johnson has warned people not to “rely on this news as a solution” as it is still “very, very early days”.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Mr Hancock said: “We still appeal this morning for people’s patience, firstly to follow existing rules, because this is still a deadly disease and this is not over yet.

“Even once we start to roll it out, we still need to look after ourselves, look after our community by following the rules and being careful to stop the spread of transmission.

“The NHS is ready, we’re prepared, I’ve put in the extra £150m today, the GPs are ready, we’re working with the pharmacists, the hospitals are going to play a very important role,” he said.



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