On Oct. 5, the Welsh assembly passed a motion to implement a COVID-19 vaccine passport by a narrow margin of one vote. The decision has turned controversial as one lawmaker from the conservative side could not participate in the vote, held via Zoom, due to a technical glitch.
The vaccine passport proposal, put forward by the Labor party, was approved by the Senedd parliament by 28 votes to 27. If the result had turned out to be a tie, the presiding officer would have been required to break it by voting against the measure. This would have resulted in the ruling Labor party losing its COVID-19 passport campaign.
The voting result would actually have been a tie had Conservative MS Gareth Davies been able to vote. Davies was unable to log into the Zoom call and was deprived of his right to vote. Fellow conservatives had pleaded for more time.
However, the presiding officer Elin Jones refused the requests. “No – we have made every opportunity possible for that member to get in,” she said. Jones claimed that Davies could not be contacted while the conservative members insisted that Davies was experiencing “technical difficulties.”
The Senedd functions in a hybrid mode due to COVID-19 restrictions, giving members the choice between attending in-person or through remote access applications such as Zoom or electronic voting. At the time of the motion, Davies was attending the Tory party conference in Manchester. Some have questioned the legitimacy of the voting result given that Davies was unable to have his say.
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“I was already on a call at that time frantically speaking with Welsh Conservative staff members in an attempt to solve the ICT problems and wasn’t able to call you directly in the short space of time that was given… In future, I will not rely on technology,” Davies said in a statement.
With the Labor party winning, the Welsh government has now made the NHS COVID-19 passport mandatory for people attending social events or nightclubs. Health Minister Eluned Morgan stated that COVID-19 passports are nothing new since event organizers have already been using such measures.
The COVID-19 passport will allow nightclubs and other venues for social gatherings to be operational “through a potentially very difficult and challenging autumn and winter,” she said. One of the main targets of the passport is young adults who have the lowest vaccination rate in Wales.
There has been strong criticism against the COVID-19 passport. Conservative member Rhun ap iorwerth stated that the way the government has approached implementing the passport “raised more questions than answers.” He also mentioned that police and other public bodies have not received any guidelines with regards to enforcing the passport rule.
Some conservatives warned that Wales was at risk of becoming a “checkpoint society” as people would be asked to produce papers if they wished to socialize. Tory MS Russell George pointed to Scotland, where the COVID-19 passport scheme has resulted in “extreme frustration for users” owing to glitches in the app.