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The Tory MP told TalkRADIO he would be the first in line to get a jab of the approved coronavirus vaccine if he could but claimed many of his constituents have been terrified it would become mandatory. Sir Desmond said he believed it would be “absurd” to think a Conservative Government could force a vaccine on British people, but admitted the idea of an immunity passport looks like a way to coerce people.
He said: “People have been writing to me terrified at the prospect that the vaccine will become compulsory.
“And I replied saying don’t be ridiculous. This is absurd! We’re a Conservative Government, we wouldn’t dream of any such thing happening.
“That would constitute an assault under our existing law. It would require primary legislation and there is no chance of my colleagues voting for any such thing.
“But then in the last few weeks we’ve had this concept of a passport put to us.
“So only if you get the vaccine will you be able to go to a pub, catch an aeroplane, go to the cinema and do all sorts of things.
“And I think that that is a deeply insidious form of coercion which plays into the hands of conspiracy theorists who have been warning about this.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) does not recommend countries issuing “immunity passports” for those who have recovered from COVID-19, but is investigating the prospects of using e-vaccination certificates, a WHO medical expert said on Thursday.
“We are looking very closely into the use of technology in this COVID-19 response, one of them how we can work with member states toward an e-vaccination certificate,” he told a virtual briefing in Copenhagen.
But a recent report has warned against digital health passports until coronavirus tests and vaccines are readily available.
Researchers said the failure to address issues with the availability and affordability of tests and vaccines risks excluding already vulnerable people from protection against COVID-19.
Digital health passports, also known as immunity passports, are digital credentials which when combined with identity verification allow people to prove their health status.
Report author Dr Ana Beduschi, from the University of Exeter, said policymakers needed to strike a balance between protecting the rights and freedoms of all individuals and safeguarding public interests while managing the effects of the pandemic.
She warned digital health passports may interfere with several fundamental rights, including the right to privacy, the freedoms of movement and peaceful assembly.
It also warns that the use of digital health passports may have an impact on equality and non-discrimination.
If some people cannot access or afford COVID-19 tests and vaccines they will not be able to prove their health status, thus having their freedoms de facto restricted.
Dr Beduschi said: “Digital health passports may contribute to the long-term management of the COVID-19 pandemic, but their introduction poses essential questions for the protection of data privacy and human rights.
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“They build on sensitive personal health information to create a new distinction between individuals based on their health status, which can then be used to determine the degree of freedoms and rights individuals may enjoy.
“Given that digital health passports contain sensitive personal information, domestic laws and policies should carefully consider the conditions of collection, storage and uses of the data by private sector providers.
“It is also crucial that the communities that have already been badly impacted by the pandemic have swift access to affordable tests and, eventually, vaccines.
“Otherwise, deploying digital health passports could further deepen the existing inequalities in society.”
Multiple initiatives to develop and deploy digital health passports are currently under way in the UK and abroad, to facilitate the return to work, travel, and attending large sports events.
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