BBC and Boris Johnson out of step after PM says Strictly dancers should be vaccinated

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Strictly - Guy Levy/BBC
Strictly - Guy Levy/BBC

The BBC will not require its professional dancers to have Covid vaccinations, despite the Prime Minister declaring that they “should get the jab”.

The corporation was standing firm against Boris Johnson’s advice on Wednesday, insisting that being vaccinated against the virus is not a legal requirement.

Three professional dancers have reportedly refused the vaccine, with at least one of their celebrity partners said to be dismayed at the news.

Mr Johnson made time during his Washington trip to discuss the issue, which threatens to cast a shadow over the first Strictly live show on BBC One this Saturday.

“I think that’s a matter for the producers but I strongly believe that people should get vaccinated,” he said.

“I don’t want to bully people or to lecture them but … right, I don’t mind lecturing them. I think it’s a great thing to do for yourself, your family, your community. I think people should go and get a jab. It’s a wonderful thing to do.”

Boris Johnson - Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images
Boris Johnson - Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

BBC sources said that being vaccinated was not a legal requirement when participating in a television programme, adding that both the professionals and celebrities were told this when they joined the show.

However, the corporation is also in a bind. Insiders said the producers could not tell the celebrities whether or not their professional partners had been vaccinated because “vaccination status is private information”.

Replacing the dancers in question would reveal their identities to the public - a breach of privacy and data protection.

A BBC spokesperson said all the pairings would dance on Saturday’s show as planned.

This year’s show has already had its first Covid case, with a professional dancer testing positive last week. The BBC did not disclose their identity.

Vaccination can be mandated by employers as a condition of coming into the workplace. This summer, Bank of America told UK workers they could only return to the office if they had received at least one Covid jab.

In the US, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan made it mandatory for staff to report whether they have had the vaccination.

Past Strictly professionals criticised the programme for allowing dancers to take part while unvaccinated.

'Celebrities have the right to refuse to dance with them'

James Jordan, who appeared on the show from 2006-13, told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “I normally would protect the professional dancers until the cows come home but, on this occasion, I can’t. I feel they don’t deserve their place on the show, and the celebrities have the right to refuse to dance with them.

“I think it’s a really, really selfish thing to do. On Strictly, you’re working so hard and training so hard, your immune system gets very low. Lots of people get sick anyway and this was before coronavirus.

“If your immune system is very low and you’re sweating all over someone - it’s very close contact on Strictly, as we all know - you’re much more at risk of spreading something like that.”

Kristina Rihanoff, another former dancer, said the producers should have established everyone’s vaccination status before the programme was cast. “The BBC should have done the job way before the show started,” she said.

A BBC spokesperson said: “We do not comment on speculation of somebody’s Covid vaccination status. Strictly Come Dancing production has, and will, continue to follow strict government guidelines to ensure the safety of all on the show.”

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