The government continually finds bizarre new ways to tackle the pandemic. We were singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to our hands when other countries were plunging into lockdown. We were urged not to wear masks when anyone could see that they were effective. We were all ushered out of pubs and restaurants at 10 pm into a crowded stream of revellers all dumbfounded by government incompetence. At least we didn’t have France’s 7 pm national curfew?
Now, in the latest curious piece of policy, the government looks set to introduce passports for people that are vaccinated. Yes, failing to learn from the disasters of the NHS Test and Trace system, which has gone over budget by £15 billion, the government seems willing to squander many millions more on something that they claim will only be a temporary measure. If they decide to implement the vaccine passport, however, it will probably take months to complete and won’t be nearly as useful as government boffins have imagined.
Undoubtedly, even the Test and Trace App was a failure. It was first reported to be in development in March 2020. Boris Johnson told parliament that it would be in place by June 2020. In June 2020, the first prototype for the app was abandoned (£10 million down the drain). It was not until September that the app came out, and by then it was only used for 2 months before the November lockdown and the tier systems were put in place. By the time the vaccine passports are put into place, I wouldn’t be surprised if we had moved on to the next pandemic.
But I am not only wary that the vaccine passports will become a black hole for government resources. Every other day Rishi Sunak seems to pull shiny coins from behind his ears to fund Covid expenditure. Government spending has ceased to have any meaning. But vaccine passports will also provide people with a false sense of security. It was only recently that Boris crushed people’s hopes of a normal Easter, reminding us that the vaccines are not 100% effective. What then would the vaccine passports guarantee? If two people cannot safely mix indoors now who both have had the vaccine, why will this change with a piece of paper proving it?
Though it is clear that people want a sense of security from the government. 58% of British people support the introduction of the vaccine passport system, even when the vaccine rollout is still ongoing. These rates are relatively lower in younger people – 45% of young people support the introduction of vaccine passports whilst people are being vaccinated, rising to 60% once everyone has been vaccinated. Clearly, I am swimming against the tide.
This age division has been a common theme during coronavirus. The young had to make sacrifices for the old. This was the unescapable reality. But now, instead of rewarding the young, vaccine passports would further penalise them. It will be the octogenarians going wild in Spain’s party cities. The young will have to sit this summer out, as the last, clinging to the mantra that ‘there’s always next year’.
The role of the government should not be to indulge people’s sense of insecurity or germaphobia. The role of the government should be to return the country to a state of normality, now, as coronavirus recedes. The government’s carte blanche of ‘anything to get out of this’ must be abandoned. The means no longer justifies the end in a post-vaccinated society.
Government tactics to increase lockdown compliance were emotionally manipulative. ‘Can you look them in the eyes and tell them you’re helping by staying at home?’ People felt guilty even for doing things that were completely legal in lockdown. I’m sure many were afraid to leave the house. Now the government has to deal with the consequences of the fear they engendered. This begins by ensuring no new restrictions are introduced after 21st June.
I personally am not too fussed about personal liberties. Let’s face it, I didn’t do much with my liberties when I had them. But after a year inside I have started to care more about them. I do not think that it is too much to ask to have a meal in a restaurant without having to present credentials. Baroness Chakrabati, whom I have often strongly disagreed with in the past, has a point: ‘It’s one thing to have a passport to travel internationally, that is a privilege, even a luxury, but participation in local community life is a fundamental right’.
Of course, I can see where the desire for vaccine passports comes from. The government are incentivising the population to get a vaccine. This is particularly relevant to groups who are less likely to take the vaccine if not required, namely the young and certain minority groups. The government hope to reverse the spread of disinformation by compelling people to get a vaccine. But this will not solve the problem. As David Archard, chair of the Nuffield Council on Biotechnics, argues, it is more effective to counter disinformation with accurate information. Any form of government compulsion will engender mistrust.
It might also be of use to reopening travel. It could allow vaccinated people into countries with low levels of vaccination, reducing the risk of spreading Covid upon arrival. But this seems unlikely. The government has already introduced a ‘traffic-light’ system for travel even if you are vaccinated. Our government and governments around the world do not want to allow new Covid strands into their country, immune to their vaccines.
I’m sure many will consign this as overly pessimistic or unhelpful. The government says that we will need to learn to live with the virus, but surely after a year we have appeased it for long enough? The way to rehabilitate society is not by curtailing more of the country’s freedom. The risk, so low now with vaccinations, should be left to the individual. Let normal programming resume.
Image Credits: Creative Commons – “Doctor or nurse filling a syringe with Covid-19 Vaccine” by wuestenigel is licensed under CC BY 2.0