PM refuses to rule out lockdown lasting to SUMMER amid claims he is willing to keep curbs longer to make sure it's the last national squeeze - despite UK cases slumping for 12th day in a row and rise in deaths easing

Boris Johnson has refused to rule out the brutal national lockdown lasting for many more months to come

The PM has pledged to offer vaccines to the 14million people in the four most vulnerable by mid-February

Claims are swirling that the premier is ready to extend the lockdown for longer to ensure it is the last one

Boris Johnson today refused to rule out the brutal lockdown lasting until the summer amid claims he is willing to keep curbs longer to ensure it is the last national squeeze.

The PM insisted it is 'too early to say' whether the restrictions will stay in place for months longer - despite cases falling by more than a fifth on last week and hopes rising that the most vulnerable groups will be vaccinated by mid-February, with a record 366,919 jabs administered in 24 hours.

Mr Johnson also delivered a stark message that the new coronavirus strain is 'much more contagious', repeating his plea for people to stay at home and obey the rules.

The intervention came as scientists delivered a grim warning that even mass vaccinations will not be enough to stop the disease spreading, suggesting that measures will need to remain longer.

There are claims from the PM's circle that he is ready to risk the wrath of Tory MPs - who are clamouring for confirmation of an easing starting March 8 - by persisting with the curbs.

The UK recorded another 37,892 infections today, but that was down more than a fifth on last Thursday.

There were another 1,290 deaths but that was up just 3.4 per cent on the same day last week, suggesting that the rate might be slowing.

In other major moves in the coronavirus crisis:

Home Secretary Priti Patel has threatened tougher enforcement as she announced new £800 fines for people who attend house parties, with the penalty doubling to a maximum of £6,400 for repeat offenders;

The UK has set a new record for daily doses of vaccines at 366,919, with 4,973,248 people now having received jabs;

Medics in Cumbria and the North East of England have handed out 10 times more Covid vaccines than those in Shropshire, NHS data reveals today;

Ministers could achieve the target for vaccinating the top four priority groups with far fewer than 13.9million doses as they are only committing to 'offer' the jabs;

Emergency services fought to protect a vaccine factory in Wrexham from dramatic flooding overnight;

Gavin Williamson faced the fury of parents after he said he can only 'hope' that schools will restart face-to-face lessons for millions of pupils before Easter;

An investigation has been launched into reports that some of the laptops handed out to vulnerable children for homeschooling are infected with malware;

Northern Ireland has extended its lockdown until March 5 with First Minister Arlene Foster warning the NHS is still under serious pressure.