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Give workers paid time off to get the jab, Labour urges employers

LABOUR called on employers to give staff paid time off to get inoculated against Covid-19 as seven vaccination centres opened across England today.

Deputy leader Angela Rayner wrote to the “big five” business groups to request that they ease the process of workers getting the jab.

The letter was sent to the Confederation of Business Industry, the British Chamber of Commerce, Federation of Small Businesses, the Institute of Directors and MakeUK. 

She called on them to allow staff time to escort vulnerable relatives to appointments, support staff in signing up as NHS volunteers to help in the vaccine roll-out and using firms’ platforms to promote the vaccine and combat anti-vax misinformation.

Meanwhile the TUC has created a joint campaign with Labour to get trade unionists and Labour members to volunteer to become vaccine centre stewards.

Ms Rayner warned that about 23,000 jobs are being lost per week since the pandemic hit in March, costing the economy £5 billion so far according to Office of Budget Responsibility data, and that delays to mass vaccination would cause more damage.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that tougher lockdown measures may be needed as he announced that some 2.4 million vaccine jabs for Covid-19 had been carried out so far.

On a visit to a vaccine centre at Bristol’s Ashton Gate Stadium, he said that roughly 40 per cent of 80-year-olds and 23 per cent of elderly residents of care homes have been inoculated. The government has promised that 15 million jabs would be given to people at highest risk of death and severe illness by mid-February.

Seven mass-vaccination centres opened in England in a drive to speed the rollout of coronavirus vaccines from Pfizer and AstraZeneca. The new centres will be joined later this week by hundreds more GP-led and hospital services, along with the first pharmacy-led pilot sites, taking the total in England to about 1,200.

Overall there will be 2,700 vaccine sites in the UK, according to the government rollout plan, with the aim of vaccinating at least two million people a week. Ministers have pledged that “tens of millions will be immunised by spring.”

It also suggests that “those delivering key public services” and others at high risk of exposure would be next in line for the vaccine once the at-risk priority groups have been vaccinated.

NHS England boss Sir Simon Stevens told MPs the vaccine programme would involve two “sprints” to inoculate the four highest priority groups by mid-February and to vaccinate the rest of the higher risk groups by April.

He said almost 375,000 people in England had received a second vaccine dose, despite the government’s much criticised decision — which it defended again today — to stretch the gap between the first jab and the “booster” from three weeks to three months in order to prioritise giving as many people as possible an initial jab.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said the vaccine rollout could take place 24 hours a day if there are enough supplies from manufacturers. He also suggested that police officers, teachers and other critical workers will be in the “highest category of phase two” of the vaccine roll-out.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the press that, as of 9am on Monday, there had been a further 46,169 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK.

The biggest increases in Covid-19 case rates are now happening outside the south and east of England, analysis by the PA news agency shows. The Liverpool City region and parts of the West Midlands have seen particularly sharp rises.

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