Matt Hancock tonight praised the roll out of the vaccine as he said coronavirus cases, hospital admissions and deaths are all continuing to fall.
Mr Hancock said that the fall in the number of deaths was accelerating – down 41 per cent on the previous week – suggesting the vaccination programme was working.
And he said that two-fifths of the adult population of the UK have now received their first dose, and data published by the health agencies of the four nations showed more than one million people have now had both doses.
“The vaccine is protecting the NHS, saving lives right across the country. The country’s plan is working,” Mr Hancock said.
But he came under criticism after the Government proposed just a one per cent pay rise for nurses after what Mr Hancock called their “incredible hard work”.
He said: “We’ve proposed what we think is affordable to make sure that in the NHS people do get a pay rise and I think it is fair to take into account all the considerations, the incredible hard work of those in the NHS, which means they are not part of the overall public sector pay freeze and also what’s affordable as a nation.”
Mr Hancock said the UK Government was taking a different approach to nursing remuneration compared with the devolved administration in Scotland, where carers are due to receive a Covid-19 bonus.
He said: “The administration in Edinburgh take their decisions in terms of how they run the NHS.
“That isn’t the approach we have chosen to take here and obviously matters of pay will go to the pay review body.
“But we have set out what is affordable given the very significant challenges to the public finances.”
The country's finances were also referecned in the context of social after, following the Budget earlier this week where Rishi Sunak said £407bn had been spent on tackling coronavirus.
Asked for a firm date for when a plan for social care will be produced, Mr Hancock told the press conference: “Solving the social care funding issue has been a longstanding problem.
“We have a clear manifesto commitment to deliver on that and we intend to publish details of how we plan to do that this year – I’ve been working with the Prime Minister on it.
“Clearly, before the pandemic, we were starting to work, originally, after the election on this.
“We did engage then in cross-party engagement – I put out a call for cross-party suggestions and input – and we received quite a lot of that and that has been part of our considerations.
“I hope that we can come forward with a plan that can work and can carry broad public consensus.
“Now, it is more challenging to deliver this in more difficult economic times – that is obvious and clear. What we need though is to put in a long-term plan to bring about a solution to this problem.”
At the briefing from No 10 Mr Hancock also revealed the mystery person infected with the Manaus variant of coronavirus has been found.
Officials have been hunting for the unknown individual after cases of the variant of concern were detected in the UK.
Six cases of the P1 variant, first identified in the Brazilian city of Manaus, have been found – three in Scotland and three in England.
A public appeal was made for one of those people in England to come forward after they took a test in February but left no contact details.
Earlier this week, Mr Hancock said the hunt for the infected person had been narrowed down to 379 households in the south-east of England.
Public health officials have found the unnamed person and traced all of their contacts.
The individual’s location has not been reported.
The P1 variant, which was also detected in travellers from Brazil to Japan, was associated with a surge of cases in Manaus late last year.
It is among a total of four variants of concern being tracked by scientists in the UK.
A study this week suggested that between 25 per cent and 61 per cent of people in Manaus who had previously had Covid were susceptible to reinfection with the concerning P1 variant.
The variant carries a mutation in the spike protein called E484K, raising concerns that vaccines may not be as effective against it.