Sajid Javid has urged the British public to “play your part” and get a COVID booster vaccine – warning that the UK is “once again in a race between the vaccine and the virus”.
The heath secretary told Sky’s Kay Burley that cases of Omicron are growing at a “phenomenal rate”, which is why the government is expanding the booster programme “to a level never seen before in this country”.
Mr Javid said the plan is for jab centres to be open for at least 12 hours on every day of the Christmas holidays, apart from Christmas Day itself.
“We have got to act early,” the health secretary added, telling Sky News that ministers are “throwing everything” at the booster rollout, which is “more important than ever”.
Mr Javid later told Kay Burley that there are currently 10 people in hospital with Omicron.
His comments came a day after Boris Johnson announced that everyone aged 18 and over in England will have the chance to get their booster vaccine before the end of the year.
The prime minister said every adult who had their second vaccine at least three months before will now be able to book a booster jab from Wednesday.
The NHS website was repeatedly crashing on Monday morning, with a Number 10 spokesperson later confirming that 110,000 people booked their booster before 9am.
The spokesperson added that the health service was making sure there was “further capacity” on the NHS website for more jabs to be booked.
Mr Javid said vaccination remained the best protection, however, as scientists now know that “two doses are not enough” to protect people from the new variant.
Questioned on how the government plans to hit its target, Mr Javid said: “We are going to have even more vaccination centres, we are going to open all vaccination centres seven days a week for at least 12 hours a day – some for many, many longer than that – some for perhaps even 24 hours.
“Over the Christmas holiday period… I don’t think they are going to open on Christmas Day at this point.”
Mr Javid later told LBC he could not guarantee schools would not close again due to the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace confirmed that armed forces personnel have been “made available” to support the health service administer booster vaccines, the Ministry of Defence said.
Some 600 personnel from across the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force have been made available to NHS England, delivering jabs in small teams across the country, and another 51 will help with planning, while more than 100 are assisting in Scotland, the MoD said.
The PM addressed the nation on Sunday after the UK’s alert level was raised from three to four.
Mr Johnson said getting all adults boosted by 1 January will require “an extraordinary effort” as he acknowledged “some other appointments will need to be postponed until the new year”.
A Number 10 spokesperson reiterated on Monday that cancer treatment would not be “degraded” due to the focus on the booster vaccine rollout.
The announcement was pre-recorded with no opportunity for questions, meaning the PM could not be asked about suggestions he broke COVID rules last December by attending a virtual Downing Street staff Christmas quiz.
Mr Javid told Sky News it will be up to Cabinet Secretary Simon Case to decide whether to investigate, as part of his inquiry into other alleged parties and events.
Later on Sky News, shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said Mr Johnson “must come to parliament today to explain what happened”.