Minister says preparations taking place to counter Covid-19 vaccine opponents
Oliver Dowden also faced questions on the £1.57 billion support package for struggling cultural, arts and heritage institutions.
Efforts to counter anti-vaccination supporters are being stepped up in preparation of a Covid-19 vaccine becoming available, MPs have heard.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said work is ongoing across UK Government departments for such a scenario.
His remarks came as Labour warned Facebook, Google and other big tech companies have “profited” from the anti-vaccination industry, with a poll suggesting a third of Britons do not plan to have a Covid-19 vaccine.
Speaking in the Commons, shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens said: “The Government’s failure to create a fully functioning test, track and isolate system has damaged public confidence and the last thing the country needs now is another public health crisis.
“Earlier this week the Center for Countering Digital Hate published a report exposing how big tech companies, like Facebook and Google, have profited from an anti-vaccination industry that has grown to 58 million followers during the Covid crisis.
“Polling by YouGov shows that 31% of Britons polled don’t plan to have a Covid vaccine when one becomes available, and social media use and vaccine refusal are linked.
“When is he going to put the public health and safety before the interests of the big tech companies profiting on the back of a global pandemic and publish the Online Harms Bill?”
Mr Dowden said he believed Ms Stevens had put forward a “gross mischaracterisation” of the Government’s priorities given its commitment to bring forward legislation to improve online safety.
He added: “She’s absolutely right to highlight the concerns around anti-vax.
“Not only have we stood up the counter-disinformation unit but I am also working with my ministerial colleagues, both in the department and across Government, to co-ordinate our work in relation to anti-vax in preparation for a situation, I hope, where we have a vaccine available.”
Earlier, Mr Dowden said arts venues will have to demonstrate they have “exhausted all available funds” to be granted a Government bailout.
On Monday, the Government announced a £1.57 billion support package for struggling cultural, arts and heritage institutions.
He said: “In designing this package it’s intended to achieve two principal outcomes. First of all to protect those crown jewels nationally and internationally significant institutions.
“But also and equally vitally to help cultural institutions up and down the country where their loss would deprive communities of essential cultural experiences.
“We will be publishing the full criteria processes shortly and of course that will include, for example, demonstrating that they have exhausted all available funds.”
Labour’s Ms Stevens pressed Mr Dowden on support for freelancers in the creative industries, warning “millions” have been “excluded” from Government schemes and left without support for four months – with the prospect of many more months without income.
She asked: “Will any of the money the Secretary of State announced on Monday go to freelancers and if so exactly when will they receive it?”
The Culture Secretary said “tens of thousands” of self-employed workers have been able to access a Government scheme to support them.
Mr Dowden added on the rescue package: “The key thing for freelancers is to protect the institutions so that in future they can return as they reopen and this is what this package achieves.”
Ms Stevens noted: “I’ll take that as a no then.”
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