COVID-19: Sir Keir Starmer challenges Boris Johnson to ensure UK is first country to vaccinate its population

·3-min read

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has challenged the government to ensure the UK is the first country in the world to vaccinate its population against coronavirus.

In a TV address aired on Tuesday evening, Sir Keir called for a "massive, immediate, and round the clock" effort to vaccinate the public.

Speaking on the first day of England's third national lockdown, the Labour leader demanded a "new contract between the government and the British people".

"The country stays at home; the government delivers the vaccine," he said, as he proposed the terms of a deal between ministers and UK citizens.

Sir Keir added: "We were the first country in the world to get the vaccine. Let's be the first in the world to get our country vaccinated."

The Labour leader said millions of doses per week should be arriving "in every village and town, every high street and every GP surgery" by the end of the month.

"We need our businesses and public services working hand in hand for the common good," he added.

"We need an army of volunteers and to use every resource at our disposal.

"This is now a race between the virus and the vaccine. And if we pull together as a nation, we can win.

"I pledge to do everything I can to help in this national mission."

Labour are supporting the imposition of the new lockdown in England, which is set to be voted on by MPs on Wednesday, although Sir Keir asked why the government did not act "sooner" and he criticised the short notice given before the closure of schools.

He urged the public to "re-kindle the spirit of last March" and to "come together and to do everything possible to stay at home".

Sir Keir's address, a day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson's own TV address to announce the latest lockdown, came as it was revealed 1.3 million people across the UK have so far received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine.

At a Downing Street news conference earlier on Tuesday, Mr Johnson said this included 23% of all those aged over 80 (650,000 people) in England.

"That means that nearly one in four of one of the most vulnerable groups will have in two to three weeks - all of them - a significant degree of immunity," the prime minister added.

"And when you consider that the average age of COVID fatalities is in the 80s, you can see the importance of what we have already achieved."

Mr Johnson said almost one thousand vaccination sites would be established across the country by the end of this week, with seven further centres in sports stadiums and exhibition centres to open next week.

He promised more detail on the vaccination programme on Thursday, with daily updates to be provided on the numbers being vaccinated from Monday.

At the same news conference, England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty defended the government's decision to extend the gap between the two vaccine doses being given to people - which was taken to increase the speed at which the most vulnerable people receive at least some protection.

He said this would mean the number of people vaccinated can be doubled over three months.

Prof Whitty said there was a "theoretical risk" of a mutant of the virus emerging between that extended gap, but he added it was "quite a small real worry".

"The general view was the size of the increase of the risk is sufficiently small that measured against this ability to double the number of people who actually are vaccinated, the public health arguments are really strongly for doing what we have decided to do," he added.

The government has committed to vaccinating 13.9 million of the most vulnerable people by the middle of next month.