CENTRAL Ayrshire MP Dr Philippa Whitford has welcomed the approval of the Oxford-AstroZeneca vaccine for the use in the UK.

But she warned the government that unless they acted quickly to place all of England into full lockdown, the new vaccine could be too late to stop the spread of the new COVID-19 variant which is sweeping the country.

The MP, who is chair of the All-Party Group on Vaccinations, said that fact that the latest vaccine does not need to be stored at extremely low temperatures would be a massive help in the ‘Herculean task’ for all four UK health services.

She then urged UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock to act quickly to put the whole of England into the toughest lockdown tier to try to halt the new coronavirus variant in its tracks. Mr Hancock had just announced tougher restrictions for much of the rest of England, but she warned it might not be enough.

Dr Whitford, an acclaimed breast cancer surgeon, said: “Hospitals in London and the South East reported shortages of critical beds and even oxygen.

“Only taking action once cases in an area are soaring is too late to bring it under control.

“With cases of the new variant rising everywhere, does the Secretary of State not think it is time to put the whole of England under Tier 4 conditions?”

Mr Hancock said: “I have just announced the need to move a significant proportion of England into tier four restrictions and I welcome the implicit support for that measure.

“But also where it is possible to keep some of the freedoms that we all cherish, then I think we should.”