The British government is being urged to pass new laws to stop people from sharing “dangerous” theories online about a potential new vaccine for the new coronavirus.
Labor, which is Britain’s official opposition, said the emergency law should include financial and criminal penalties for online platforms that fail to eradicate unsubstantiated claims about a dangerous vaccine. There is a lot like this on the internet after news reports that Britain is close to using a vaccine for the first time against the virus that causes the disease COVID-19.
The results of the trials show the vaccines developed by Pfizer and BioNTech can protect more than 90 percent of people from the virus.
But online claims have contributed to about 30 percent of people in the UK saying they would consider rejecting a vaccine if offered to them, making protection against the virus on a national scale potentially less effective.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told BBC television’s morning news program Breakfast that people distributing such items online are “exploiting people’s fear, their distrust of institutions and governments, and spreading poison and harm”.
He called on the government to build grassroots confidence in potential vaccines and to answer any reasonable questions people might have about the levels of immunity vaccines will create, and whether they are suitable for people with chronic health conditions.
“There is nothing wrong with asking those questions and a strong public health message from the government, reinforced by us, will dispel that fear,” he said.
Labor has written a letter to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden indicating that there are a number of anti-vaccination groups online with hundreds of thousands of followers “misinforming” on the matter.
The government has responded by saying it is already talking to online platforms about how such false claims can be better monitored and stopped.
The government has also been urged to be clearer about whether it wants to prioritize curbing the spread of the virus, or supporting the economy.
A member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, known as SAGE, said the “back and forth” between encouraging people to spend money at places such as restaurants and telling them not to leave their homes confused them.
John Edmunds, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told the Guardian newspaper: “We need to take a long-term and prudent view and recognize that we have to have limits for some time. Yes, we can raise them if it is safe to do so, especially when lots of people have been vaccinated. “
Another SAGE member, Susan Michie, said on Radio 4’s Today program that the next two weeks will be “very important” if the UK lockdown ends, as planned, on December 2.
He said people had to follow the rules if the country was to be “in a position” to allow families to spend the Christmas holidays together.
Britain recorded an additional 26,860 cases of the new coronavirus on Saturday, and 462 deaths each day.
Elsewhere in Europe, Austria has introduced one of the continent’s toughest lockdowns.
Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has told people there to “see no one” after a spike in infections.
The Financial Times quoted him as saying: “One contact means one contact too many.”
Starting Tuesday, people will only be allowed to leave their homes to buy groceries, travel to important jobs, or provide urgent care.
Schools will also be closed.
Health Minister Rudolf Anschober said: “Across Europe, the second wave was more dynamic, stronger and tougher than the first.”
Greece has also introduced new anti-viral measures, including school closings until the end of the month.
Italy has also implemented strict measures in recent days, as has Switzerland.
In France, Prime Minister Jean Castex told the daily newspaper Le Monde that the strict measures were likely to be implemented until next summer.