"Personally, I don't think coronavirus is the bioweapon," the man told me matter-of-factly.

"It's the vaccine that's the bioweapon," he added.

"It’s for population control - and we won't know until it's already happened."

This was the tenor of most of my human interactions last Tuesday, when I spent an afternoon outside the Senedd reporting on a protest against the Welsh Government’s new COVID Pass policy – the law as of this week.

That particular gentleman had drifted over for a chat having learnt I was a journalist, which had become obvious after another man, probably in his early sixties and visibly angry, had leaned over and tersely advised me to "try not to lie this time" as I took notes on my phone.


He’d been accompanied by a bespectacled lady of around the same age, on most counts resembling my dearly departed nan, who’d noted which publication I worked for and assured me she'd check my write-up for misrepresentations. 

The protest in question had actually been called by the civil liberty organisation, Big Brother Watch, but it had also attracted a host of other personalities - from conspiracy-minded anti-vaxxers to far right political activists, with the latter group presumably hoping to pick up new recruits from the former.

Former Abolish the Welsh Assembly candidate Richard Taylor was present, as were Dan Morgan and Stan Robinson, the hardline right wingers and vicious racists behind "A Voice of Wales" - a Welsh media channel now permanently banned from YouTube.

The National Wales: As protests go it was a bit of a spicy one for a journalist, I'll be honestAs protests go it was a bit of a spicy one for a journalist, I'll be honest

Many people at the demo seemed more than a little vulnerable. I overheard one man, after telling the crowd that God alone had dominion over the human body, happily chatting about how his faith had saved him from a life of drug addiction.

“If I can’t believe in God, I can’t believe in anything,” he told a fellow attendee.

I listened to another speaker insist that the red dragon of Wales lived in all of us (cool) and that the vaccine represented a violation of our spiritual bodies (not quite so cool). 

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Witnessing this soup of the strange and the sinister, it was tempting to write off opposition to the policy as paranoid and unfounded, but unfortunately, the issue is much more complicated than that.

While I don’t fully agree with Big Brother Watch’s approach (in their haste to appeal to all sides of the political spectrum, they held a fringe Conservative Party conference event with famed Awful Person Julia Hartley-Brewer) their concerns about COVID passports are, to my mind, reasonable.

The National Wales: Big Brother Watch has been campaigning against COVID passports all summerBig Brother Watch has been campaigning against COVID passports all summer

For one thing, the Welsh Government still reports that lower income and BAME people are less likely to have had the jab.

This could be for a range of reasons – from lack of access to healthcare through to pre-existing health conditions or vaccine hesitancy – but while this inequality remains, the COVID Pass policy could have unintended negative consequences for those groups, and this should be taken seriously.

Big Brother Watch director, Silkie Carlo, told me she feared the policy would open the door for employers to start requiring proof of vaccination as a condition of work. For undocumented migrants, who are likely to face substantial barriers in accessing the vaccine, this would have devastating consequences.

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Furthermore, given the raft of invasive and authoritarian Bills currently making their way through Parliament – the Policing Bill, the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill, the Nationality and Borders Bill – we really can’t be too cautious when it comes to concerns about data collection and privacy.

On another front, I wasn’t left with the impression that the COVID Pass policy would encourage the anti-vaxxers in that crowd to get the jab - rather, it seemed to feed into their already considerable feelings of paranoia and persecution.

The National Wales: Home Secretary Priti Patel has pushed through a number of Bills granting the state unprecedented powers to surveil and restrict the publicHome Secretary Priti Patel has pushed through a number of Bills granting the state unprecedented powers to surveil and restrict the public

Speaking to Dr Annie Kelly, an online extremism researcher, only cemented my misgivings. 

Dr Kelly has just written and released “Vaccine: The Human Story”, a podcast which traces the human struggles that led to the development of the smallpox vaccine, as well as the history of the anti-vax movement.

She also regularly interviews anti-vaxxers and adherents of QAnon (google at your peril) for the popular QAnon Anonymous podcast.

"My read is that COVID passports have generally been the number one rallying point for anti-vaxxers in this country,” she told me.

"Anti-vax sentiment is generally pretty low, so they can increase turnout by latching onto things like vaccine passports and mandates." 

This is what puzzles me: Not only is anti-vax sentiment low, but vaccine uptake in Wales has been consistently high.

We were the first UK nation to pass the 50 per-cent mark in vaccinating our population. At the time of writing, around 70 per cent of the entire Welsh population has been double-jabbed, and the roll-out of booster shots for the most vulnerable is already underway.


At the same time, Wales reports some of the highest Covid transmission rates in the UK – and this isn’t altogether unsurprising.

The vaccines, while generally very effective at reducing the risk of serious illness with COVID-19, do not fully prevent transmission. A recent study suggested that, for the Delta variant, protection from transmission drops dramatically within about three months.

With this in mind, it’s difficult to see what precisely the Welsh Government hopes to achieve with the COVID Pass policy – we don’t have any guarantee that those who remain unvaccinated will feel particularly compelled by the prospect of not going to nightclubs (70 per-cent of 18-29 year-olds are already double-jabbed), and a fully vaxxed crowd doesn’t guarantee that the virus won’t be spread.

Questions like this meant a rare instance of unanimous opposition when the policy was debated in the Senedd last week, but the nuance of the day got lost in the circus of MS Gareth Davies’s (failed) attempt to vote from Conservative Party conference.

The National Wales: Woops. Woops.

It also got lost in the Health Minister’s assertion that opposing COVID Passes meant being content with doing nothing to avoid another very hard winter.

I want to be clear – I’m not sure what the answer is.

Current transmission rates are concerning, the NHS is already desperately strained and so are its staff - and the chances of another 'firebreak' are slim now that so many social security measures, like furlough and the Universal Credit uplift, have been removed.

At the same time, the COVID Pass policy as it’s currently constituted is riddled with serious questions that remain unanswered, and seems to exist purely for the purpose of appearing to do something.

It is, as MS Jane Dodds remarked last week, “bad law-making”.

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