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COVID-19 Vaccinations: International Athletes

Volume 820: debated on Thursday 17 March 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to make COVID-19 vaccinations available to athletes and support staff from any nation which requires such provision and is sending competitors (1) to the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, or (2) to any other international sporting competition hosted by the United Kingdom.

My Lords, the UK has safely hosted major sporting events during the pandemic without mandating vaccination against Covid-19, supported by the comprehensive body of research undertaken by the Events Research Programme. For the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, organisers are very strongly recommending that athletes and officials get vaccinated. To date, we are not aware of any Commonwealth Games associations asking for assistance, but we continue to liaise with the Games associations on this and other matters.

I thank the Minister for that response. Does he not think it would be a good idea to be proactive and go to some of the smaller nations which do not have developed vaccination programmes and say that we will offer vaccination to all their staff who are coming to this event as a gesture of good will? It would be an extension of our soft power and surely that is what a festival of sport, such as the Games, should be.

My Lords, we are proactively working across the health sector and with our Games partners to see what additional support may be required for participants when they are in the UK. We are in regular discussions with the Commonwealth Games associations and their chief medical officers regarding the protocols which will keep everyone safe for the Games. The UK is committed to equitable access to safe and effective vaccines, treatments and tests through multilateral co-operation to end the acute phase of this pandemic.

Pursuant to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Addington, will the Government confirm that they will work with the organising committee and the WHO in particular to reach out to all 53 Commonwealth countries to promote vaccination and support the 98% vaccination level which was achieved at the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing?

Yes, we are working with Games partners and public health partners and are learning lessons from recent events such as the Summer and Winter Olympics to make sure that the message gets across very loudly and clearly that we are strongly recommending that everyone be vaccinated.

My Lords, given the attention that will be paid to the Commonwealth Games, is this not a wonderful opportunity for the Government to promote vaccination, particularly if a fourth round of vaccination is going to be inevitable, and to promote it by using some of the young people at the Games to get the message over, particularly to the young and ethnic minorities, that vaccination is important?

We know that vaccinations are very effective at protecting us from Covid-19 and are our strongest weapon in the fight against the pandemic. That is a message that is important for people still at home who have not yet been vaccinated, as well as for those visiting. The Games are an important opportunity to send that message.

My Lords, what will the residential quarters be like for the Birmingham Games? Obviously, the right arrangements can help with appropriate disease control. Cheekily, is there a housing legacy from what is being done? I declare an interest as the chair of the Built Environment Committee.

I will write to my noble friend with the full details of the housing provision and legacy, but I reassure her that there will be a robust set of protective protocols in place, including testing, temperature checks and regular cleaning, which has been developed in accordance with leading public health experts and lessons learned from other large-scale events to keep everybody safe during the Games.

My Lords, my noble friend mentioned the ERP. Will he take this opportunity to congratulate David Ross and Nick Hytner, who so excellently chaired that group and all who were involved? I declare an interest: I was honoured to serve as part of the ERP. Will he congratulate all the staff at DCMS who played such a key role in enabling spectators to be back at sporting events, fans to be back in music venues and people to be back in cultural venues across the country safely and able to enjoy the rich cultural and sporting fabric of our nation?

I most whole- heartedly congratulate everybody involved, including my noble friend, for their work in the Events Research Programme. They worked very swiftly to develop an evidence base to make sure that we could get people back to doing all the things that they missed doing during lockdown and which are so important to their well-being and mental health and to the wider economic and societal impacts.

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House what arrangements have been made for feeding the athletes at the Commonwealth Games? At the last Olympics, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s completely dominated the food offer because they had paid so much money. That does not send out a great message on health, especially to our kids.

I will write to the noble Baroness about the food options for those attending the Games. Of course, it will be up to people to choose what they wish to eat and to do so in a healthy and nutritious manner.

My Lords, the pandemic is not over until it is over everywhere. In order truly to tackle it, people across the world need access to vaccines, including in African and Caribbean nations, which have been deprived of vaccines and of the ability to manufacture their own vaccines because of intellectual property protections. If proposals for a vaccine waiver are put to World Trade Organization members in the coming weeks or months, can the Minister indicate which way the UK Government will vote?

My Lords, the UK is one of the largest donors to the COVAX advance market commitment, which supports access to Covid-19 vaccinations for up to 92 low- and middle-income countries. This is a very effective mechanism and our £548 million commitment has helped COVAX deliver more than £1 billion vaccines to low- and middle-income countries. We have also donated more than 33 million vaccines. We need a truly global effort because no one country and no one pharmaceutical company would be able to do this alone.