The government is to roll out 24/7 vaccinations centres, Boris Johnson has confirmed, after days of pressure on the government to step up the programme further.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Johnson said vaccines would be “going to 24/7 as soon as we can” and said the health secretary, Matt Hancock, would set out more detail shortly after the government set up a pilot centre.
“At the moment the limit is on supply,” Johnson said. “We have a huge network of 233 hospitals, 1,000 GP surgeries, 200 pharmacies and 50 mass vaccination centres and they are going … exceptionally fast.
“I pay tribute to their work, and it’s thanks to the work of the NHS and to the vaccine taskforce that we have secured more doses per capita than virtually any other country in the world, certainly more than any other country in Europe.”
The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, said the 24/7 centres should come “the sooner the better for our NHS and for our economy” but also hit out at the prime minister for what he described as his pre-Christmas complacency about the spread of the virus.
Quoting back Johnson’s words from the last prime minister’s questions before Christmas, Starmer said: “The prime minister told us then that we were seeing, in his words, ‘a significant reduction in the virus’. He told us then that there was no need for endless lockdowns, and no need to change the rules about Christmas mixing.
“Since then … 17,000 people have died of Covid, 60,000 people have been admitted to hospital and there’s been over a million new cases. How did the prime minister get it so wrong and why was he so slow?”
Johnson said the change of strategy was down to the spread of the new variant and said the government had acted “within 24 hours of getting the advice on 18 [December] … we acted to put the vast parts of the country into much, much tougher measures”.
The prime minister said the country was beginning to see a slowdown in infections. “It’s very, very important to stress that these are early days, we are now seeing the beginnings of some signs that that is starting to have an effect in many parts of the country, but by no means everywhere, and it is early days,” he said.
Starmer said it was still clear tougher measures were still needed to control the spread and said it was inevitable the PM would have to act. “The next big decision is obvious. The current restrictions are not strong enough to control the virus and stronger restrictions are needed,” he said, adding that the prime minister is “likely to be asking members to vote for this”.
“Can the prime minister tell us when infection rates are much higher than last year, when hospital admissions are much higher than last March, when death rates are much higher than last March, why on Earth are restrictions weaker than last March?”
Johnson said measures were “under constant review” and said he did “not rule out” the need for further restrictions but repeated the measures were “starting to show signs of some effect and we must take account of that too because nobody can doubt the serious damage that is done by lockdowns to people’s mental health, to jobs, to livelihoods, as well”.