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Are Covid passports really the answer?

“Authoritarian. Discriminatory. Un-British.” These are just a few of the words that come to mind over the government’s “revolting” plans for Covid passports, says Tim Stanley in The Daily Telegraph. The idea is that the digital “Covid status certificate” will allow people to attend football matches, theatres and the like by showing they have had either the vaccine, a recent negative test or the virus itself within six months. Pilot schemes will soon be under way, with a full rollout planned later in the year. The “lesser gods of Westminster” insist this will “help us open up sooner”. But we were repeatedly told vaccines would “allow us to regain our rights as fast as possible”. Instead the government is introducing “a whole new architecture of mass surveillance”.

Calm down, says Sean O’Grady in The Independent. We all have a right to “live as we wish” – but only if we don’t endanger others. If an ID system is the only safe way to achieve some semblance of normality, count me in. The “green pass” has worked like a dream here in Israel, says Anshel Pfeffer in The Spectator. Bars or restaurants no longer bother to check it – but that was never its true purpose. A government official told me the real aim was to encourage otherwise reluctant young folk to get the jab, bringing us all closer to herd immunity. Sure enough, the promise of being allowed back into their favourite haunts got everyone “off their backsides and into the vaccination centres”.

“High-minded Tories” aren’t the only ones who oppose vaccine passports, says Freddie Sayers in The Daily Telegraph. Pragmatic Conservatives question the need for the scheme if it can only be rolled out later in the year, when we should be at or near herd immunity. Centrist liberals worry that certain groups, including ethnic minorities reluctant to get the jab, will face discrimination. The Left think it’ll hurt poor and older people who “don’t have smartphones or can’t afford tests”. Across the political spectrum, this issue has “struck a chord”. While a full government U-turn is unlikely, we may see the policy watered down so much “it is either forgotten about or collapses in on itself”.

The broader question, says Joseph Sternberg in The Wall Street Journal, is why Boris is being so cautious. Once famous for his “buccaneering spirit”, he has become one of the most cautious politicians around. The truth is, Britain’s “overweening public-health class” has struck the fear of God into the public, who largely back the PM’s caution. So if things go south and further restrictions are needed, his government will get it in the neck. Clearly, coming out of lockdown “will require conquering not the virus but our political class’s many and varied neuroses”.

How it would work

Details of the scheme haven’t yet been fleshed out, says Alex Wickham in Politico. As things stand, Covid certificates wouldn’t be needed for shops or non-essential retail. “The current Whitehall thinking is more toward using them for mass events and nightclubs.” They could eventually be used in pubs when they relax social distancing rules. But with several months before the scheme could feasibly begin, “there is a long time for the conversation in Westminster to change”.