WATCH: “Go further and faster to vaccinate NHS staff,” says Ashworth

Elliot Chappell

Jonathan Ashworth has welcomed the progress made by the government in administering vaccinations to immunise the population against coronavirus but warned that “we’ve still got to go further and faster to vaccinate NHS staff”.

In a Sky News interview this evening, the Shadow Health Secretary told viewers that he is “terrified” by the current the number of hospitalisations and deaths due to the virus and the situation facing now the health service.

Commenting shortly after the Health Secretary gave a Covid press briefing earlier tonight, Ashworth said: “I’m really, really worried. I cannot tell you how worried I am.

“We’ve got more people in hospital in this wave than in the first wave. We’re currently trending – trending, we’re not there yet – to have more deaths in this wave than the first wave. And there’s well over 40,000 NHS staff off sick with Covid.

“That’s why I say to the government, look, I congratulate the government on the progress we’ve made on vaccination – it is good news, no one can quibble with it. But we’ve still got to go further and faster to vaccinate NHS staff.”

The Shadow Health Secretary called for the government to “rapidly vaccinate them over the next 14 days” and also pushed the government to consider the use of 24-hour vaccinations sites to facilitate quicker distribution.

“If you vaccinate just shy of 30 million people,” he explained. “We’ll reduce hospitalisations and deaths by about 99%. We should be targeting that now as well. So, we’ve got to go further and faster.

“Let’s use our GPs, let’s use all our chemists, community pharmacists. Let’s have our mobile centres. If there’s demand, let’s have 24-hour sites for vaccination as well. We really are in a race against time here.”

The government reported 46,169 new cases of Covid today, and 529 deaths. Matt Hancock gave his latest televised press briefing this evening, during which he warned the public that “we’re at the worst point in this pandemic”.

Vaccine deployment minister Nadhim Zahawi told MPs earlier this evening reported that 2.33 million vaccinations have been administered, with 1.96 million having received their first dose while 374,613 having been given both doses.

Both Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner have called for a 24-hour vaccination programme. The Labour leader said in a speech this morning that the country needs “round-the-clock vaccine programmes, 24-hours a day, seven days a week”.

Rayner added this afternoon: “Our wonderful NHS staff are rising to the challenge, as they always do, to deliver the vaccine. The British people have sacrificed so much, now the government must deliver for the British people.

“The Prime Minister needs to use this lockdown to develop a round-the-clock vaccine programme, 24-hours a day, 7 days-a-week. If the government can’t sort out 24/7 vaccinations they need to admit that this is as a result of their own shortcomings, not blame the public and NHS staff.”

NHS national medical director Stephen Powis suggested in the Covid briefing this evening that the plan is to vaccinate everyone in the nine “vulnerable” groups by April, which amounts to 32 million people and over half of UK adults.

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