Covid passports – illiberal, intrusive, and counterproductive

6 October 2021 — Manifesto Club

The government has published plans for Covid passports to be possibly introduced over the winter.

Here below is the Manifesto Club response, showing how these plans are illiberal, intrusive, and counter-productive.

If you would like to respond to the consultation (before 11 October) you can do so here.

All the best,
Josie Appleton

—————–

Manifesto Club response to Covid-status certification

We consider that the ‘Plan B’ outline of Covid-status certification removes fundamental liberties, while having no justification in public health.

Our objections are as follows:

Turns Britain into ‘papers please’ society

The main result of the Covid-status certification would be to turn Britain into a ‘papers please’ society. It would introduce checkpoints at the doors of nightclubs, theatres, football grounds, and music festivals.

Vaccine passports schemes introduce a policing function for public venues. A person entering these public venues cannot do so freely, but must show their pass. The venue is asked to perform the role of police in relation to their customers.

This takes away the right of all citizens – vaccinated and unvaccinated – to pass freely in society. It establishes checkpoints. Vaccine passports have led to significant cultural shifts even in countries such as France where identity cards must be carried and identity checks are common.

The UK does not have a tradition of carrying or showing ID, and the imposition of this requirement would fundamentally jar with the ordinary freedoms that people have to move freely without showing identity cards or formal documents.

The plans would force businesses to police their customers, imposing penalties starting at £1000 for failing to check covid certification. It would mean that a theatre that didn’t want to check the covid status of clients would be forced to close. The plans also require local authorities to police businesses’ imposition of these measures.

Creates undue pressure for people to undergo a medical procedure

The decision to be vaccinated or not should be made freely, by consent of the individual concerned. This is an important principle of medical ethics, that people should not be forced to accept medical interventions against their will. Covid certification would place extreme pressure to be vaccinated for individuals such as a devoted football fan, or a young person who frequents nightclubs. These people would be pressured to vaccinate, and therefore denied a free decision about a medical procedure.

Creates inequality and division

Covid status certification would introduce a two-tier society, where certain people have access to the range of social events, and others do not. This means that there are two classes of citizens, who have different sets of rights. This is the first introduction of different legal status among adult citizens since the removal of inferior legal status for women. It means that assuming the full rights of citizenship is conditional upon vaccination.

Such division creates resentments and discord between groups of citizens, and of the ‘excluded’ group in relation to authority. The unvaccinated are not full citizens, and are deprived of the full range of civic rights, and are likely to feel less integrated and more suspicious in relation to authority. There is particular potential for discord when the unvaccinated are disproportionately from particular groups, such as young people or ethnic minorities.

No justification in terms of public health

There is no justification for Covid status certification schemes in terms of public health. Vaccines have only a slight effect on a person’s likelihood to carry or transmit the virus. As seen in Israel and other highly vaccinated countries, it is perfectly possible for waves of infection to occur between vaccinated people. Therefore, a person with Covid status certification cannot be guaranteed to not be carrying the virus. The Covid-status scheme treats them as safe, and the unvaccinated as risky; this is unfounded in public health or scientific terms.

The Israeli minister of health admitted that vaccine passports could not be justified in medical terms, but rather that they were there to pressure the unvaccinated to vaccinate. This has also been the underlying motivation in countries such as France. Such pressure is unacceptable in principle. It is certainly inappropriate in a country such as the UK, where voluntary vaccine uptake has been extremely high.

The Covid Status Certification scheme’s lack of public health basis is made particularly clear by the plan to enforce it using ‘vaccine status only’, discounting natural immunity and test results. Given the equality or superiority of natural immunity over vaccine immunity, this means that the system excludes people who have an equal or greater degree of medical protection.

This narrow focus means that the scheme is not an accurate evaluation of a person’s actual covid risk. Instead, it turns vaccination into a bureaucratic procedure that people must undergo in order to participate in certain parts of society and assume the full status of citizenship. This deprives vaccination of its rationale and public health basis.

Measures could be counterproductive in public health terms

In countries that have introduced vaccine passports, the use of political force to push vaccination increases public mistrust of health authorities and can harden anti-vaccine sentiment. It may make people less likely to vaccinate children for common childhood illnesses, or to carry out other measures that are important to public health. It is very important that public health measures are undertaken by consent, in order for them to be effective in the long term and for people to trust advice given by public health authorities.

Side-steps parliamentary democracy

The plans will not be subject to the necessary government scrutiny and debate; they are being rushed through. Even the consultation is being rushed, with the intimation that people should reply towards the start of the (14 day!) consultation in case the plans have to be imposed before the end. This is not a consultation, if the plans may be imposed halfway through the short window for responses, and suggests minimal attention will be paid to the responses received.

The plan to use statutory instruments to impose Covid certification means that this will not be subject to parliamentary debate and scrutiny. The ‘yes-no’ vote on measures, a month after imposition, is a poor substitute for parliamentary scrutiny and amendment prior to the imposition of powers.

This shameless avoidance of parliamentary and public scrutiny is the sign of a government that wishes to continue governing by decree in the manner of despots, rather than to make public health policy through the ordinary channels of liberal democracies.

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