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Downing Street Creates Chaos Over Vaccination Timeline By Changing Policy Twice In Minutes

Downing Street Creates Chaos Over Vaccination Timeline By Changing Policy Twice In Minutes

There is confusion over what the government's timetable for vaccinating the first nine cohorts is (PA)

2 min read

Downing Street sowed confusion over when the first phase of vaccinations is due to be completed this morning after changing policy twice in minutes during a chaotic briefing.

Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson began by rejecting a target published by the Cabinet Office of having everyone in cohorts 1-9 jabbed “by May”.

He said the press release had been sent “in error” and would be “withdrawn”, restating Number 10’s previous position that the target was to vaccinate the over-50s and most vulnerable by “the end of Spring”, but without putting a date on when that actually referred to.

However just minutes later on the call with Lobby reporters this lunchtime the PM’s spokesperson said the Cabinet Office statement was not released in error after all.

He said it was now not being withdrawn, but asked therefore if the statements within it were correct he would not confirm on the record the deadline was now May, rather than the end of Spring, which could stretch well into June.

The row was sparked by an announcement by the Cabinet Office that the local elections are still going ahead as planned despite continuing coronavirus restrictions.

Among the details of how polling day will take place in a Covid-secure way was the line: “The UK’s vaccination programme is planned to have reached all nine priority cohorts by May, meaning that the Government can commit to go ahead with these polls with confidence - and maintain the choice for voters between voting in person or remotely.”

This appeared to tie in with previous comments from NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens, who has said the aim is for all over-50s and those at risk to be vaccinated by the end of April, but has not been publicly confirmed by Downing Street.

And initially in the briefing for journalists today Johnson’s official spokesman rubbished the statement, saying: “In relation to the Cabinet Office press notice, this was issued in error, and I believe the Cabinet Office have now withdrawn this.”

He said “you can expect an updated release from them” and added: “Our ambition remains to offer all priority cohorts of vaccination by spring.”

But a few minutes later the spokesman reversed that position and said: “I was wrong in my initial answer in relation to the Cabinet Office press notice it isn't actually being being withdrawn.”

He added that “the Cabinet Office document is correct” and Johnson will set out a "precise timetable" on 15 February.

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