Tesco was right: Why not ban anti-vaxxers from the shops? – David Behrens

I gave up on conspiracy theorists when they tried to persuade us that the moon landing in 1969 was faked. How else could we explain the picture of a raised American flag in an atmosphere without gravity, they argued.

The Tesco campaign featuring Father Christmas presenting his Covid pass at border control has sparked more than 3,000 complaints since it launched.

The answer – a bit of stiff wire and some glue – was too inconveniently close to the truth for them. So was the realisation that not even David Blaine could have kept the details of such an audacious deception a secret for half a century. Sending a rocket into space, on the other hand, was child’s play, if you had an unlimited supply of money. Elon Musk proved it again just the other week.

That’s the trouble with all these crackpot theories. It’s tempting to take them seriously, but it takes only a moment’s logical thought to unravel them completely. Yet the theorists are nothing if not persistent. No matter how many times you tell them that the glow in the sky is the Northern Lights, they’ll insist it’s a UFO.

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Tesco was the latest organisation to discover this the other day when it released its Christmas advert. Ever since Woolworths started the tradition a generation ago, stores have been outdoing each other to produce the most extravagant promotion of the season. Usually, they are as saccharin as a David Bowie-Bing Crosby duet, but Tesco’s effort this year was genuinely quite funny, I thought, in satirising the constantly changing rules over lockdown. This involved, among other inanities, Santa showing his Covid passport at the airport as he flew back to Toyland.

The Tesco campaign featuring Father Christmas presenting his Covid pass at border control has sparked more than 3,000 complaints since it launched.

The reaction was immediate and damning. Tesco was invoking medical discrimination among shoppers and must therefore be boycotted, demanded anti-vaxxers on social media. By midweek, 3,000 complaints had landed at the door of the media regulator, Ofcom, making the supermarket the most controversial advertiser of the year. That’s quite an achievement for a shop that’s usually as bland as a sliced white loaf.

But those complaints were not representative of the broad viewing public; they were the result of a concerted campaign by vaccination refuseniks who would without Ofcom’s good offices have had to content themselves by shouting into the wind.

Their leading voice was the TV presenter and pseudo-scientist Gillian McKeith, who said Tesco was celebrating discrimination and segregation. Who in their right mind in management thought this was a good idea, she wondered.

I don’t know, Gillian – maybe the same person who thought you were an appropriate choice to host a TV show?

But what really upset the anti-vax brigade was the realisation that Tesco had sailed uncomfortably close to the truth on medical discrimination. For though it was obviously not in their interests to suggest any such thing in a Christmas advert, would it actually be so wrong to deny admission to customers who could not produce vaccination passports?

After all, the continued absence of restrictions over the festive season depends on as many people as possible rolling up their sleeves; should those who refuse to do so be entitled to the same freedom of movement as those who do?

It’s a question of rights versus responsibility. If you wish to set yourself apart from the mainstream of society, you can’t expect to be made welcome when you try to go shopping with them.

Neither does it help the anti-vaxxers’ case that their self-appointed spokespeople are so preposterous. The other week, half a dozen of them filmed themselves handing bogus legal papers to staff at an Essex hospital, accusing them of “crimes against humanity” for their work in tackling the pandemic. It was as senseless as the acts of sedition perpetrated by those other conspiracy theorists in Washington last January.

And the anti-needle types have yet to explain what it is about the vaccine they don’t trust – a judgement which, unless they’re all doctors or scientists, is based on ignorance and hearsay.

So as I queue self-righteously for my booster jab next week, just down the road from my local Tesco, I would like to applaud their inadvertent advocacy for keeping the refuseniks as far away from me as possible. How far? Let’s call Elon Musk and see if he can arrange an alternative universe for them all on the moon. That ought to convince them they weren’t fooling around in 1969.

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