Covid-19 vaccinations should be given to all teachers and school workers in the February half-term, Sir Keir Starmer has said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson failed to directly answer the Labour leader’s appeal, which aims to help reopen some schools sooner.
Sir Keir repeatedly branded Mr Johnson “slow” in his response to the pandemic and questioned why the coronavirus death tally for the UK has passed 100,000.
Speaking in the Commons, Sir Keir told MPs: “The Prime Minister is going to have answer that question one day, and he should have the decency to answer it today.”
Mr Johnson replied: “When you have a new virus, and indeed when you have a new variant of that virus of the kind that we have in this country, when you have the dilemmas as hard and as heavy as this Government has had to face over the last year, I must tell (Sir Keir) there are no easy answers – perpetual lockdown is no answer.”
He also told MPs “6.9 million people in our country have had the vaccine”, adding: “I hope very much to be, in the next few weeks, to be setting out in much more detail how this country can exit now from the pandemic.”
On schools, Sir Keir asked at Prime Minister’s Questions: “Does he agree with me that once the first four categories of the most vulnerable have been vaccinated by mid-February, he should bring forward the vaccination of key workers and use the window of the February half-term to vaccinate all teachers and all school staff?”
Mr Johnson replied: “Of course, it follows that all teachers in JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) groups one to nine will be vaccinated as a matter of priority.
“And I pay tribute, by the way, to the huge efforts parents are making across the country struggling to educate their kids, I know how deeply frustrating it is, the extra burden that we have placed on families by closing the schools.
“And no-one has worked harder than my right honourable friend the Education Secretary (Gavin Williamson) to keep schools open. We all want to open schools.”
Sir Keir insisted the Government has a duty to ensure every child can learn from home, as he raised concerns over a lack of laptops and internet access.
Mr Johnson said he “fully understands” the “frustration” of families across the country, before defending the Government’s record on providing 1.3 million laptops and financial support.
The Prime Minister added: “I’d like to hear the leader of the Opposition, in defiance of his union paymasters, say that schools are safe.”
Earlier, Sir Keir called for people coming into the UK from abroad to be required to isolate in a hotel.
He said: “The Prime Minister was slow into the first lockdown last March, he was slow in getting protective equipment to the front line, slow to protect our care homes, slow on testing and tracing, slow into the second lockdown in the autumn, slow to change the Christmas mixing rules, slow again into this third lockdown, delaying 13 days from December 22 before implementing it, and I fear he still hasn’t learned that lesson.
“The latest example is the continued delay in securing our borders. We’ve known about the variants of the virus since early December when it was announced in the House of Commons. We know some of those variants are coming from abroad. But we don’t know the route.”
Mr Johnson accused the Opposition of supporting one approach then attacking it.
He added: “We have one of the toughest regimes in the world. We ask people to test 72 hours before they fly, they have to produce a passenger locator form, otherwise they can be kicked off the flight.
“They already have to quarantine for 10 days and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary (Priti Patel) will be setting out later today, if he cared to wait for that, even tougher measures for those red-list countries where we are particularly concerned about new variants.”