British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday hit out at anti-vaccine groups who spread "mumbo jumbo" on social media but ruled out the UK following some European countries in making Covid-19 vaccination a mandatory legal requirement.
Speaking during a visit to a vaccination centre in Northampton in eastern England, Johnson said the UK will maintain a "voluntary approach" to its vaccination programme as opposed to "coercion". However, he condemned anti-vaxxers for spreading complete nonsense and urged people to take up their booster doses to protect against the surging Omicron variant.
"They (anti-vaxxers) are totally wrong and I think it is time that I, the government, call them out on what they are doing," Johnson told reporters.
"It is absolutely wrong, it is totally counterproductive, and the stuff they're putting out on social media is completely mumbo jumbo… You haven't heard me say that before, because I think it's important we have a voluntary approach in this country and we're going to keep a voluntary approach," he said.
Italy is the latest country to make vaccination compulsory for some, with all over-50s now being told to have a jab. Earlier, Austria was among the first countries to make vaccination a legal requirement.
Johnson said while Omicron is milder than previous variants, "the pressures on hospitals are clear". He pointed out that the National Health Service (NHS) was under "huge pressure" at the moment and that it was a "tragedy" that some people were refusing what would keep them safe and out of hospital.
"What a tragedy that we've got all this pressure on the NHS, all the difficulties that our doctors and nurses are experiencing, and we've got people out there spouting complete nonsense about vaccination," he said.
"The saddest words in the English language are 'too late'. When you're in ICU and you haven't been vaccinated, sadly it's too late to get vaccinated, so get boosted now," he added.
NHS England announced that around 90 per cent of over-50s have now received their third top up booster dose of a Covid-19 vaccine and that millions of appointments remain available for anyone yet to get boosted.
"It is brilliant to see so many people getting their vital top-up dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, with 90 per cent of those eligible aged 50 and over now boosted, and more than 29 million boosters given in total," said Dr Emily Lawson, head of the NHS Covid-19 vaccination programme.
"Vaccination gives the best protection for you and your loved ones against coronavirus, so if you're eligible – please get boosted now," she said.
Meanwhile, the government hopes that the peak of the Omicron variant wave will be hit quite soon after the UK recorded over 190,000 daily infections. The requirement for a confirmatory PCR test to follow a positive lateral flow test conducted on a home testing kit has been scrapped in an attempt to relieve some of the pressures on testing laboratories and also to address staff absences by containing self-isolation for milder cases to seven days.