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By Natalie Bloomer
What are the plans?
This week the government published details of four reviews into ways it can handle the pandemic as we come out of lockdown. They are:
A social-distancing review to explore whether current guidelines could be relaxed in various settings.
A Covid-status certification review to look at whether and how Covid-status certification might be used to reopen the economy and reduce restrictions on social contact.
An events research programme to look at different approaches to ventilation, test-on-entry protocols, social-distancing and Covid-status certification.
A global travel taskforce to assess when international travel may be safe and to work on a risk-based “traffic light” system.
Perhaps the most controversial of the plans is the commitment to look at Covid certification (or Covid passports as it has become known). The government says the introduction of certification could “allow some freedoms to be restored more safely, for example by allowing mass events to admit more participants, increased passenger numbers and reduced border restrictions for travellers, and social distancing rules to be relaxed.” The document goes on to say that even without government intervention Covid-status certification is “likely to become a feature of our lives until the threat from the pandemic recedes”.
What are the arguments for and against?
The issue is proving contentious, with MPs from all sides speaking out against the plans and conflicting messages from government ministers in recent weeks. However there are some who believe the introduction of Covid passports will allow us to relax restrictions quicker and speed up the return to normal life.
The president of the European Commission Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen, last month announced plans for a ‘Digital Green Pass’ in Europe. Taking to Twitter she said:
“We'll present this month a legislative proposal for a Digital Green Pass. The aim is to provide: proof that a person has been vaccinated, results of tests for those who couldn’t get a vaccine yet and info on COVID19 recovery. It will respect data protection, security & privacy.
“The Digital Green Pass should facilitate Europeans‘ lives. The aim is to gradually enable them to move safely in the European Union or abroad - for work or tourism.”
A similar scheme has already been introduced in Israel. An app is being used to show if people have been fully vaccinated against Covid or have already contracted the disease and are presumed to have some immunity. Those who have a ‘Green Pass’ are currently able to access hotels, theatres, gyms and concerts.
However other countries have ruled out the use of such passes. The White House recently confirmed it would not be introducing mandatory vaccine passports saying “the government is not now, nor will be supporting a system that requires Amercians to carry a credential, there will be no federal database, no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential”.
Visiting professor of nursing at the University of Northampton, Dr Stephen O’Brien says although the concept of a Covid passport may initially sound like a good idea, it is a complex issue fraught with ethical problems.
“When you unpack this it becomes quite challenging. The vaccine mostly protects us from getting very ill from Covid but the science is still trying to find out if that results in a reduction of onward transmission. The likelihood is that it does but the science is currently unclear. If it doesn't then onward transmission will happen whether you are vaccinated or not and therefore negates the need for a passport.
“Certification is also likely to be a logistically difficult thing to do. There has never been a mandate to say that everybody should be vaccinated - we encourage it but there will be people who either choose to not believe the science or have decided for other legitimate reasons not to take up the vaccine. So this would create a two tier system which could be seen as discriminatory.
“Another issue is that young people haven’t been offered the vaccine yet so depending on the timings of all this they will be automatically excluded. I’ve been very supportive of other Covid measures because the science supported them, but I think Boris Johnson will end up having to drop this.”
What do our local MPs think?
A letter opposing moves to introduce Covid passports has been signed by a cross-party group of 70 MPs including three from Northamptonshire. They are: Andrew Lewer MP for Northampton South, Peter Bone MP for Wellingborough and Philip Hollobone MP for Kettering.
Speaking to NN Journal Bone said:
“I signed the declaration against this for two reasons. The first is that I don’t believe that British people should have to show papers to representatives of the State as we’ve never had to carry ID papers before. The second is that I don’t see any practical advantage of it - if you go to an event and are older the chances are that you will have already had the vaccine, if you’re younger there is much less risk of becoming very ill from Covid so I don’t see that there is any real advantage to this.”
“As Covid infections, hospitalisations and deaths plummet, the vaccination rollout will seal the fate of this terrible virus and any further lockdowns and good riddance to both. The end of these restrictions must mean the return of all our freedoms and not just some of them. There will be temptations from politicians, civil servants and some scientists who have had a taste of sweeping powers to continue using them.
“The take up of vaccinations has been beyond the expectations of our public and clinical health community and those who do not want to take it is thankfully low. But here again we should not be tempted to make vaccinations compulsory. Policies that restrict our freedoms should be measured, evidence based and used sparingly.”
Tom Pursglove, MP for Corby and East Northants said:
“At this stage no firm decisions have been made on any Covid-19 certification proposals and as a government minister bound by ‘collective responsibility’ it would be inappropriate for me to pre-empt the outcome of the consultation on this that has only just closed. I know ministers are reflecting on the feedback.”
All of Northamptonshire’s MPs were asked by NN Journal for their views on Covid passports.