A "HUGELY significant milestone" has been reached in the Covid-19 vaccine rollout, the Prime Minister has said, as all people in the UK aged 50 and over have now been offered the jab.

The Government has said this can now pave the way for the next phase of the rollout, with people in their 40s expected to be offered the jab imminently.

It means the Government has met its target of offering the jab to all of its top nine priority groups, including the clinically vulnerable and health and social care workers, three days ahead of its target date of April 15.

NHS England has said that 95 per cent of over 50s in the country have taken up the offer of the vaccine so far.

The Joint Committee on Vaccine and Immunisation will shortly set out its final advice for the completion of the programme, expected to begin this week with those in their late 40s.

In all, the Government said almost 40 million doses of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines have been delivered since the rollout began in the UK in December, including 32 million first jabs and more than seven million second doses.

In a statement, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that they remained on course to offer a first jab to all adults in the UK by the end of July.

“We have now passed another hugely significant milestone in our vaccine programme by offering jabs to everyone in the nine highest risk groups,” he said.

“That means more than 32 million people have been given the precious protection vaccines provide against Covid 19.

“I want to thank everyone involved in the vaccine rollout which has already saved many thousands of lives.

“We will now move forward with completing essential second doses and making progress towards our target of offering all adults a vaccine by the end of July.”

NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said 19 out of 20 over 50s had now received a first jab.

“Thanks to our NHS nurses, doctors, pharmacists, operational managers and thousands of other staff and volunteers, the NHS Covid vaccination programme is without a doubt the most successful in our history,” he said.

“It’s one of our tickets out of this pandemic and offers real hope for the future.”

The news came on the day that pubs and restaurants opened for outdoor customers, and non-essential retail also reopened its doors. In Bradford, there were huge queues for shops including Primark and Debenhams, and chilly conditions didn't deter swathes of people from visiting their local pubs.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS Trusts, said it was still important to prevent the spread of the disease following the “incredible achievement” of the vaccination programme.

“While there is still a way to go with our vaccination programme, we welcome the progress being made, with the jabs due to be rolled out to the over 40s this week and all priority groups now offered a first dose,” he said.

“As we return to pub gardens and sports activities and make our way back to non-essential shops, we must continue do all that we can to prevent the spread of infection and ensure this lockdown will be the last."