'Get gift of Covid booster' PM urges in Christmas message but warns 'things remain difficult'

The Prime Minister encouraged people across the UK to get their booster jabs in his Christmas message this year, describing it as a “wonderful” gift to their families.

Boris Johnson said that the pandemic is far from over, as “Omicron is surging”, and paid tribute to the work of NHS staff. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also thanked key workers, who have “saved countless lives” this year.

In his Christmas message released on Friday, Mr Johnson said: “Though the time for buying presents is theoretically running out, there is still a wonderful thing you can give your family and the whole country, and that is to get that jab, whether it is your first or second, or your booster.

“So that next year’s festivities are even better than this year’s.”

The government will send millions of text messages on Boxing Day urging people to get a coronavirus booster vaccine.

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The PM described a Covid vaccine as “an invisible and invaluable present”.

On Wednesday, 840,038 people across the UK received a booster or third dose, bringing the total to 31,684,926 people.

“Getting jabbed not just for themselves, for ourselves, but for friends and family and everyone we meet," he said.

“And that, after all, is the teaching of Jesus Christ, whose birth is at the heart of this enormous festival, that we should love our neighbours as we love ourselves.

“And so let’s think of all those who are being good neighbours and thinking of others."

Mr Johnson's comments came as a senior medic expressed concern about figures showing people from Pakistani, Caribbean and African backgrounds having the lowest rates for receiving a booster or third dose of Covid-19 vaccine.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures suggest that the lowest third dose and booster take-up among people aged 50 and over in England was in the Pakistani (42.2%), black Caribbean (44.4%) and black African (45.4%) groups. More than a quarter of people of black Caribbean ethnicity are estimated to not have received a first Covid vaccine dose up to December 12 – the highest proportion of all ethnic groups, the ONS said.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, council chair at the British Medical Association, told BBC Radio 4’s World at One: “This is deeply worrying because in many ways I fear a repetition of what happened in the first wave, where… we saw this rather alarming and disturbing disparity in illness and deaths amongst ethnic minorities from Covid."

Earlier this week, Mr Johnson, who has repeatedly stressed the importance of vaccinations, confirmed no further Covid-19 restrictions will be put in place in England before Christmas.

He did not, however, specify whether any new guidance will be imposed in the weeks following December 25.

How likely is it the government will announce restrictions after Christmas? ITV News Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt reports

Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have all already outlined tougher rules after Christmas.

The UK government has, however, said the situation is finely balanced and remains difficult across the country, with the Omicron variant continuing to surge and cases at an all-time high.

Ministers have said they will continue to monitor the data closely and will not hesitate to act after Christmas if necessary.

As he opens his message, the Prime Minister referred to the spread of Omicron, saying: "After two years of this pandemic, I can’t say that we are through it. How can I?"

"When Omicron is surging, when we all know, we must together try to stop the spread of this new variant, we must test ourselves and take extra care when meeting elderly or vulnerable relatives.

"We know that things remain difficult."

Opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer has also recorded a Christmas message of his own.

In a Christmas message of his own, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer thanked key workers who have “saved countless lives” this year.

In his message, released on Thursday night, Sir Keir said: "In the darkest of times, Christian values of kindness, of compassion and hope have shone through.

"Communities have come together to help one another. Key workers have saved countless lives. Armed service men and women both here and abroad have, as ever, played a huge part in protecting us all.

"Our brilliant NHS, which has done so much good since Labour founded it almost 75 years ago now, has vaccinated the country."