Boris Johnson today hinted coronavirus jabs could eventually be made compulsory or Covid passes could be rolled out in wider society if a ‘substantial proportion of the population’ remains unvaccinated.
The Prime Minister announced the Government is now triggering its Plan B to reimpose work from home guidance, make masks compulsory in more indoor settings and require people to show a Covid pass to go to nightclubs.
The measures are being rolled out across England in a bid to slow the spread of the new Omicron variant of the disease.
But Mr Johnson said a ‘national conversation’ is likely to be needed in the future on how the nation will live with the virus.
He said he does not believe the Government can ‘keep going indefinitely with non-pharmaceutical interventions’ in a hint that jabs could be made compulsory or restrictions could be targeted at the unvaccinated.
New measures could include greater outreach attempts in communities where uptake is low, or an extension of Covid passes to more venues.
Boris Johnson today hinted coronavirus jabs could eventually be made compulsory or Covid passes could be rolled out in wider society if a ‘substantial proportion of the population’ remains unvaccinated
Mr Johnson said a ‘national conversation’ is likely to be needed in the future on how the nation will live with the virus
Hosting a Downing Street press conference, Mr Johnson was asked by a member of the public if the Government could follow the lead of some European nations by making vaccinations compulsory.
When asked a question about introducing compulsory jabs at last night’s Downing Street Press conference, Mr Johnson said: ‘I think we are going to need to have a national conversation about the way forward and the other things that we can do to protect those who… haven’t got vaccinated for one reason or another.
‘I don’t believe we can keep going indefinitely with non-pharmaceutical interventions – I mean restrictions on people’s way of life – just because a substantial proportion of the population still sadly has not got vaccinated.’
He added: ‘I said… as soon as we were really talking about vaccinations seriously that I didn’t want us to have a society and a culture where we force people to get vaccinated.
‘I don’t think that has ever been the way we do things in this country.’
But he said a ‘national conversation’ on the way forward will be needed if the vaccines are proven to be effective at tackling Omicron.
He said: ‘I think that there is going to come a point if we can show that the vaccines are capable of holding Omicron… I do think that we are going to have to have a conversation about ways in which we deal with this pandemic because, I want to be absolutely clear with you, I don’t believe we can keep going indefinitely with non-pharmaceutical interventions, I mean restrictions on people’s way of life, just because a substantial proportion of the population still sadly has not got vaccinated.
‘I think we are going to need to have a national conversation about the way forward and the other things that we can do to protect those who are hard to reach, who haven’t got vaccinated for one reason or another, medical reasons why they can’t get vaccinated, other ways of protecting them.’
Mr Johnson said he believes ‘that is a stage that I think we will come to if and when we establish… that the booster is effective against Omicron’.
He added: ‘It is at that moment that I think we will have to talk seriously about moving on from the way we, from thinking about further NPIs and thinking about other ways in which we protect people.’
Although Britain has one of the highest uptakes of Covid vaccines, more than five million people – which equates to 12 per cent of the population – has not yet had their first jab.
The Government imposed new laws in November which forced all workers in the care sector to get vaccinated if they wanted to continue in their jobs.
Up to 51,000 care home staff were set to be barred from their workplace on November 11 as England’s new rule kicked in, according to data which covered the period up to November 4.
The sector was already short of 100,000 workers before the pandemic struck and the new rule meant tens of thousands of employees were barred from their workplaces.
However, care industry bosses later said the move had little effect on boosting uptake.
Mike Padgham, chair of the Independent Care Group — which represents providers in Yorkshire, said making jabs compulsory only had ‘a little bit of an effect’ on the 1.5million-strong sector.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid also announced that all frontline NHS workers need to have have had jabs by April next year.
Whilst Downing Street acknowledged the policy would trigger a mass exodus from health and social care, the Government said it was needed to protect vulnerable patients.
The Government’s own impact assessment suggests 126,000 healthcare staff — across the NHS and social care sector — are likely to be sacked when the rule is enforced.
Mr Johnson’s hint that mandatory vaccinations could be imposed came just over a week after EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that it was time for the bloc to ‘think about’ making jabs compulsory.
She said that whilst it would ultimately be up to member states to decide their own rules, it was her ‘personal opinion’ that the time was right discuss forcing people to get jabs.
‘We have one third of the population which is not vaccinated. This is 150million people – that is a lot. Not each and every one could be vaccinated… but the vast majority could,’ she said.
A coordinated EU-wide move would follow measures imposed by Austria to make vaccines compulsory for all eligible citizens in February.
Asked by a journalist whether she supported making vaccines mandatory for everyone, she replied: ‘ First of all, this is pure member state competence – it is therefore not up to me to give any kind of recommendation.
‘[But] if you’re asking me what my personal position is, two or three years ago I would never have thought to witness what we see right now.
‘That we have this horrible pandemic, we have the lifesaving vaccines, but they are not being used adequately everywhere, and thus this is an enormous health cost
‘If you look at the numbers we have 66 per cent of whole EU population vaccinated, which means we have one third of the population which is not vaccinated.
‘This is 150million people – that is a lot. Not each and every one could be vaccinated, these are very young children and people with medical conditions, but the vast majority could
‘Therefore I think it is understandable and appropriate to lead this discussion now, how we can encourage and potentially think about how we can have mandatory vaccination within the European Union.
‘This needs discussion, this needs a common approach, but it is a discussion that I think needs to be had.’
Elsewhere in his announcement yesterday, Mr Johnson said that working from home guidance would return, vaccine passports will become compulsory in large venues and the wearing of face coverings would be extended to theatres and cinemas.
At the same time as the announcement, Health Secretary Sajid Javid unveiled the plans in the House of Commons.
He said the measures were necessary because cases of the new Omicron variant were doubling ‘every two or three days’ and that they could hit more than a million by the end of the month.
But Mr Javid was heckled and even urged to resign by Tory MPs who were angry at the return of restrictions which strangle the economy – and also because the move came on the same day that Downing Street faced fury over the ‘illegal’ Christmas party held in Downing Street last year.
Mandatory mask wearing will be extended to cinemas and theatres from today but will not be needed in pubs and restaurants. The guidance will also include exemptions for when eating, drinking, exercising or singing.
The Covid health certificate will apply to unseated indoor venues with more than 500 attendees, and outside where there are more than 4,000 people.
The Prime Minister added that the pass can be obtained with a negative lateral flow test or by having had two doses of a vaccine but hinted this could change, saying ‘we will keep this under review as the boosters roll out’.
The premier said it was necessary to move to Plan B to ‘buy time’ for the NHS and to learn more about the new strain.
‘It has become increasingly clear that Omicron is growing much faster than the previous Delta variant and is spreading rapidly all around the world,’ he said.
While 568 cases had been confirmed in the UK ‘the true number is certain to be much higher’ – potentially as many as 10,000.
‘Most worryingly, there is evidence that the doubling time of Omicron could currently be between two and three days.’