The “energy” of capitalism is behind Britain’s vaccination success, Boris Johnson has told Conservative members – diminishing the role of the government and NHS.
Urging Tory members to campaign for May’s local election on the jabs achievement, the prime minister repeated his controversial claim that the private sector delivered the UK’s success.
“Yes, government played a pretty big role,” Johnson said – pointing to the vaccine taskforce set up and the “incredible work of our NHS, our GPs, our nurses”.
“But, in the end, none of this would have been possible without the innovative genius, and commercial might – you know what I’m going to say – the might of the private sector,” he said.
“The free market economy is at the heart of this vaccine rollout. There is a huge, unmissable lesson about about the need for private risk-taking and capitalist energy.”
Speaking to the Tory spring forum, the prime minister reiterated his belief that there is “absolutely nothing in the data” to delay the planned timetable for easing lockdown.
Johnson said he would be having a haircut “in just a few days’ time”, adding that he would then be “cautiously, but irreversibly… going to drink a pint of beer in the pub”.
Earlier on Saturday, it emerged that over-70s could start getting booster shots to protect them against new coronavirus variants as soon as September.
Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, said the first booster doses would go to the top four priority groups, including care home staff, NHS workers and the clinically extremely vulnerable.
He told the Telegraph that this would likely begin in September and was said to have added that the Government is expecting up to eight different jabs to be available by the autumn, including one protecting against three different variants in a single dose.
Asked when the booster programme would begin, Zahawi told the newspaper: “The most likely date will be September.
“Jonathan Van-Tam (the deputy chief medical officer) thinks that if we are going to see a requirement for a booster jab to protect the most vulnerable, (it) would be around September.”
Ministers were facing pressure to protect the success of the vaccination programme against the import of new variants from overseas, with the Guardian reporting officials met on Friday to consider expanding the travel “red list” mandating hotel quarantine.
Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “The UK Government are yet again doing too little, too late to secure our borders against Covid – and it’s the British people that will pay the price.
“Ministers need to do everything possible to stop new variants reaching the UK – and move to a comprehensive hotel quarantine system now.”