On 12 September, the UK health secretary announced a government U-turn. Sajid Javid withdrew the idea of requiring ‘vaccine passports’ for entry into nightclubs and large events.
While this idea is on the backburner at Westminster, it’s been voted in by the Scottish parliament, with the reluctant support of Scottish Greens, who are in a power-sharing arrangement with the ruling Scottish National Party.
Turning back to the UK level, on 24 September, it was reported that the government was about to join the European Union’s vaccine passport scheme for international travel, which covers more than 40 countries.
This Brexit mini-U-turn also lays the basis for an internal vaccine passport system in Britain.
The ‘EU digital covid certificate’ (a QR code) is used for domestic vaccine passports in France, Portugal and several other countries. It confirms that a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19, or received a negative PCR test result in the last three days (in the last two days for a lateral flow test), or recovered from COVID-19 in the last six months.
The certificate also contains the person’s name and date of birth.
When someone (maybe a nightclub bouncer) reads your QR code, they do not access any health data, supposedly. The only information they get is whether your certificate is valid and authentic.
In mid-September, Italy became the first European country to make its vaccine passport compulsory for all workers, public and private, on pain of a fine, from 15 October. (The cost of COVID tests is capped at €15 – about £12.85.)
Liberty, the human rights group, has warned that vaccine passports and mandatory vaccination are ‘a serious reinvention of our relationship to the state and potentially to our employers’, and represent a coercive, ‘crowd-control crisis’ response to a public health issue.
Liberty adds: ‘If vaccine passports become normalised as a requirement to access work or services, it is those already marginalised, those who have historically been failed or whose rights have been violated by the state, and those who rely on work that is precarious, whose rights and autonomy will be most affected.’
Big Brother Watch has pointed to the danger that the vaccine passport could effectively become a national ID card.
Entrust is the big US IT company that was given the COVID vaccine certification contract by the NHS in May. Earlier, in February, Entrust had publicly suggested turning vaccine passports into ‘a national citizen ID programme that can be used for multiple purposes including the secure delivery of government services, secure cross-border travel, and documentation of vaccination’.