SECOND doses of coronavirus vaccines will be accelerated for the over-50s and the clinically vulnerable across the country amid a rise in cases of the Indian variant, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said.

These doses will now be distributed within eight weeks of a first dose in order to provide added protection faster.

Speaking at a Downing Street press briefing on Friday afternoon, Mr Johnson said the Indian variant could make it “more difficult” for England to move to step four of the Government’s road map out of lockdown in June.

He warned the variant could “pose a serious disruption” to plans to ease restrictions.

The changes taking place on Monday, however, will go ahead as planned.

“I do not believe that we need, on the present evidence, to delay our road map and we will proceed with our plan to move to step three in England from Monday," Mr Johnson said.

“But I have to level with you that this new variant could pose a serious disruption to our progress and could make it more difficult to move to step four in June.”

Mr Johnson said if the Indian variant proves to be “significantly more transmissible” than other strains “we’re likely to face some hard choices”.

“I’m told that if it is only marginally more transmissible we can continue more or less as planned but if the variant is significantly more transmissible we’re likely to face some hard choices," he said.

But he said there is “no evidence to suggest that our vaccines will be less effective in protecting people against severe illness and hospitalisation”.

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Second doses will now be sped up.

Mr Johnson said: “I believe we should trust in our vaccines to protect the public whilst monitoring the situation as it develops very closely because the race between our vaccination programme and the virus may be about to become a great deal tighter and it’s more important than ever therefore that people get the protection of a second dose.

“So following advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation we will accelerate remaining second doses to the over-50s and those clinically vulnerable right across the country so those doses come just eight weeks after the first dose.”