The global reaction to the ghastly scenes unfolding in Afghanistan has understandably dominated the news agenda for the last fortnight, shifting focus away from how this country is faring after the majority of lockdown restrictions were lifted on 19th July. I would like to refocus on these matters for a moment.
The prospect of Covid Passports for internal use in this country fills me with deep unease, despite the government indicating that this could become a reality of life by the autumn. I fully appreciate the need for proof of vaccine status when flying abroad, that is a matter not completely within our control, but making them a requirement for entry to venues within our own sovereign borders is a matter for Parliament, and if it comes down to a vote I will need a heck of a lot of persuading!
We have come a long way since those dark and fearful months in Spring 2020 when a new and deadly virus struck at the very heart of our nation. Thanks to scientific advances, we developed the phenomenal AstraZeneca vaccine at Oxford and then demonstrated an incredible feat of logistical triumph getting the jabs out and into people’s arms in record time, setting a world-beating standard.
The fantastic news that over 75% of our population are now fully vaccinated is testament to our NHS and all those volunteers who signed up to help make it happen. The data is now clear: the link between a rise in infections, increased hospitalisations and deaths has finally been broken.
I state these facts to illustrate how far we have come in combating the virus and why I now have difficulty understanding the need for further intrusive restrictions on our lives, which Covid Passports would undoubtably bring.
Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, stated on 12 July that businesses and large events would be encouraged, but not required, to use Covid Passports “in high risk settings.”
The Government has been thin on detail regarding which establishments will be encouraged to use Covid Passports; only indicating it will work with venues that operate “large, crowded settings where people are likely to be in close proximity to others outside their household.” This would obviously impact most severely on pubs, restaurants, nightclubs as well as the wider events industry.
Are we really going to create further obstacles for businesses who have already had an extremely raw deal over the last 18 months as a result of Government restrictions? I sincerely hope not!
I fear we are at considerable risk of creating a two-tier society in this country if this goes ahead, where only certain people can participate in perfectly legitimate social activities. It could also present a set of serious ethical implications, given vaccine take up has varied quite considerably among different ethnic groups in society.
As of 12th August, 70.2% of those aged 18 to 29 have received a first dose and 32.4% have received both doses. If the Government’s real intention here is to coerce more young people into taking the vaccine, amid concern of a slow-down in take up rates, then I suggest they rely on more creative methods of persuasion.
Perhaps better targeted awareness campaigns across social media platforms or deploying more mobile vaccination centres in areas where young people are concentrated such as sixth forms, colleges, and university campuses will be more effective measures.
A fundamental tenet of Conservative Philosophy is a deep commitment to individual liberty. I was prepared to suspend this principle for the greater good of society during the worst days of the pandemic, but we are quite evidently in a different situation now and preserving the exercise of personal freedoms must be a priority.