'Covid-positive' man spitting in police officer's face reinforces jab calls
- Credit: Danielle Booden
Police chiefs in Norfolk have urgently called for officers to be given greater priority for Covid-19 vaccines after one was spat at in the face by a man claiming to be positive for the virus.
As it stands, police officers have no specific place in the nine priority groups set out in the roll-out of the jabs, unlike other professions including health workers and carers.
And a recent incident which saw a man who claimed to be Covid-positive spit in the face of police officers has highlighted just the kind of risks they face.
But after being asked by a member of the public during a media briefing health secretary Matt Hancock, said a change to this was not forthcoming, with priorities not due to be re-evaluated until after the initial nine groups are vaccinated.
It, in effect, places some 32 million people ahead of officers in the queue, despite the public-facing nature of the job.
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However, Simon Bailey, Norfolk's chief constable, has called for members of the force to be made a far more urgent priority, given the day-to-day hazards they face.
He said that in a recent incident in Great Yarmouth, officers had pulled over a man in a suspected stolen vehicle who in turn spat directly in the officers face, "believing that they were Covid positive".
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He said: "Police chiefs have been clear in discussions with the government that there is a strong case for officers to be vaccinated as soon as possible after the most vulnerable.
"We come in contact with members of the public all the time and everybody recognises that we can not carry out policing at a two-metre distance.
"For the safety of my officers and the public, I believe officers should be prioritised directly after the elderly and extremely clinically vulnerable."
Mr Bailey added that the incident had forced the officers involved to self-isolate, putting extra strain on his resources and inflicting stress on their families.
He added: "What happened is not acceptable in any way, shape or form."
But at the briefing earlier this week, Mr Hancock said: "We have ensured that the vaccine rollout goes through those who are most at-risk first, so any police officer aged over 50 will be part of the initial rollout through the current groups.
"After that, we will then look at what order we go in next and we will consider, for instance, questions of people who are in professions where you might have to be in contact with more people.
"No decision has been made for where we will go but we are looking very closely, including at where police officers should be, in that order."
This has prompted an angry reaction from the Police Federation of England and Wales, with all 43 branches writing an open letter to the government calling on it to reconsider.
These calls have been echoed by Andy Symonds, chairman of the Norfolk branch, who said officers "deserved better".
He said: "My colleagues are out there putting themselves in harm's way. My views have never wavered in that officers need to be vaccinated as a priority, not after 32 million vaccinations have been deployed within groups 1-9.
"Officers have been closing down illegal gatherings, parties and music events and continuing to police protests in all corners of this country.
"They've been busy policing those who break other laws, some of whom do not want to be arrested and therefore fight with officers and spit at them, full in the face, and say they have Covid.
"Officers have to attend sudden deaths and many of these have been as a result of Covid. All of these are risks officers have faced since the start but we simply carried on and got the jobs done professionally and without fuss"
The open letter, which has been signed by representatives from every branch of the federation, goes on to say officers feel "betrayed" by the ordeal.
It adds; "It shows that warm words and platitudes mean very little from this government."