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UK lawmakers criticize idea of virus passports

By EARLE GALE in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-04-07 09:49
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A person gets off a mobile vaccination centre for the COVID-19 after receiving the vaccine, in Thamesmead, London, Britain, Feb 14, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

Move is opposed by Labour Party, but poll shows it wins support from public

The United Kingdom's main opposition party has told the government it opposes the creation of so-called virus passports, which would allow people to share their novel coronavirus status in order to gain entry to certain places.

The Labour Party said virus passports would be discriminatory because vaccinations have not yet been offered to everyone.

The government floated the idea on Monday, as a way in which people with antibodies against the virus could gain access to theaters, pubs, sports stadiums, and restaurants.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the National Health Service was working on such a system to help get the nation's economy moving again.

Johnson said the idea was in the early stages and virus passports would not be needed in shops, pub gardens, or hairdressers before May 17, which many interpreted as meaning they might be required after then.

While virus passports could show whether a person has antibodies, which can be acquired from either an earlier infection or a vaccination, they could also show test results indicating whether a person is infectious.

Following outright rejection of the idea by smaller UK opposition parties, The Guardian newspaper reported on Tuesday that Labour Party leader Keir Starmer was also likely to oppose the idea, if Parliament is asked to consider it.

In light of reported strong support for virus passports among the public, Starmer told the Daily Telegraph newspaper: "My instinct is that, as the vaccine is rolled out, as the number of hospital admissions and deaths go down, there will be a British sense that we don't actually want to go down this road."

The Labour Party's deputy leader, Angela Rayner, added that all of the party's lawmakers were "minded to vote against" it.

Jon Ashworth, the Labour Party's shadow health secretary, said on the BBC's Breakfast program on Tuesday: "I'm not going to support a policy that… if someone wants to go into (a store) they have to produce a vaccination certificate on their phone, on an app… I think that's discriminatory."

The idea even seems to be unpopular among many lawmakers in Johnson's ruling Conservative Party, with around 40 calling it "divisive and discriminatory" and saying they would vote against it.

The Guardian newspaper said such strong opposition from within the Conservative Party alongside near unanimous dissent from opposition parties could mean the government would be defeated on the issue.

Nadhim Zahawi, the minister in charge of the UK's vaccination program, said on Tuesday the government has a duty to consider all ideas, including virus passports.

"It's only right that we look at all these options that are available to us to take our lives back," he said on the BBC's Breakfast program.

But he acknowledged, on Radio 4's Today program, that the use of such documents "does raise a number of ethical issues".

He said concerns about some people getting access to things based upon their ability to get a vaccination could be addressed by initially only including a person's COVID-19 test results on a virus passport; something that is available to all.

The idea of virus passports, while causing concern among lawmakers, is popular among the public. The BBC said a recent Ipsos MORI opinion poll of more than 8,000 UK adults found 78 percent thought they should be used to access international travel, and to visit someone in a care home.

The poll found the majority of people in the UK support the production of a satisfactory virus passport to gain access to hospitals, theaters, and indoor concerts.

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