Vaccine Passports

Young People Should Not be Strong-Armed Into Getting Vaccinated

We’re publishing an original piece today by Bella Wallersteiner, a Senior Parliamentary Assistant, setting out the case against trying to induce young people to get the jab by making entry to pubs/clubs/festivals conditional on showing a ‘Covid Status Certificate’. Here is an extract:

After a year in which many young people have lost their jobs, missed out great chunks of the curriculum in schools and universities and were forbidden from seeing their friends, coercing them into taking the jab is a perverse strategy. Altruistic young people worked in food banks, collected medicine and went shopping for elderly neighbours who were shielding or, inspired by the example of Captain Tom Moore, raised funds for the NHS. Instead of receiving praise for demonstrating resilience and kindness, young people are now being maligned for showing ambivalence in coming forward to take a vaccine which may do them harm. More needs to be done to convince them that the vaccine is safe and effective and that the eradication of COVID-19 requires all citizens to join together in an act of solidarity.

Once vaccines for under-30s get the green light, the Government needs to come up with a new social contract for young people. What is the duty of a young person to society? Does a young adult have a moral obligation to protect an older one? The message should be that society is the glue which binds us together in a moral compact which transcends self-interest. By getting the vaccine you are helping the community at large. Young people should want to take the vaccine because they have decided that it is the right thing to do for their own health and for the safety of others. They should not be bullied into taking the vaccine out of fear of becoming second-class citizens or because they will be denied the pleasures of techno, house and trance dance music in clubs. The Government must treat young people like grown-ups and be prepared to have an adult conversation with them. The Prime Minister, who is such an effective communicator, particularly when addressing young people, should deliver a special broadcast specifically targeting UK citizens under 30 who have given up so much over the last year. He should thank them for their solidarity and support and exhort them to make one final collective effort to beat COVID-19 by having the vaccine. If this doesn’t happen, the whole project to eradicate the scourge of coronavirus could stumble at the last fence.

Worth reading in full.

Let’s Show Vaccine Passports For Football Games the Red Card

Yesterday, the Spectator published a piece by me setting out the case against linking the reopening of sports venues to vaccine passports, something I’m particularly concerned about because the one thing I’ve missed more than anything else in the past year is going to QPR games with my son Charlie. Today, I’ve composed a more detailed version of that case. Here’s an extract:

Would it be too much to ask the Government to monitor the risk of allowing sporting venues to reopen in other parts of the world without an accompanying Covid status certification scheme, such as in Texas and Florida?

Better yet, why not just look at the data from the NFL Super Bowl, which took place in Florida on February 7th, at the height of the ‘second wave’? 25,000 fans were admitted, along with 12,000 staff, and even though only a third of fans had been vaccinated at the time, health officials have only found three people who were infected as a result of attending the game. Three in 37,000. Why don’t the clubs tell that to the fans if they’re worried they’ll be too paranoid to come to games if they’re not asked to show vaccine passports at the gate? I reckon most of us will happily take those odds. Three in 37,000 sounds a lot like QPR’s win rate for the last few seasons.

Please do read it in full and forward to your MP.

Let’s Show the Red Card to Vaccine Passports for Football Fans

In today’s Spectator, I’ve set out the case against making sports fans produce a ‘Covid Status Certificates’ as a condition of allowing them into stadiums after May 17th. I’m going to set out the case in full for Lockdown Sceptics tomorrow, but in the meantime here’s an extract from the Spectator article:

The first and most obvious objection is that it’s a breach of my liberty. It’s an inversion of the Common Law principle that everything should be permitted unless the law specifically prohibits it. Under this scheme, I am only allowed to do something if permitted to do so by law, which is the principle underlying the Napoleonic Code. As a freeborn Englishman, I prefer the Common Law tradition, which was one of my reasons for supporting Brexit.

It’s also discriminatory. I don’t just mean it will discriminate against those who haven’t been vaccinated or can’t otherwise demonstrate they are ‘safe’, but against those groups more likely to be suspicious of vaccines and who cannot afford alternative forms of certification. We know that vaccine hesitancy is higher among the UK’s black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi populations. Do we really want to see fewer of these spectators at sporting events? True, there are alternative ways of demonstrating you’re not an infection risk, such as getting a PCR test, but if you don’t want to jump through a lot of hoops they cost a minimum of £120. And an unvaccinated sports fan would have to get it redone before every fixture. For those who’ve had COVID-19, there’s the option of getting an antibody test, but you can’t get those on the NHS unless you work in primary care, social care or education.

In short, if the Government makes entry to sporting venues contingent on having a vaccine passport, it will be discriminating against minorities and the less well-off.

You can read the whole article on the Spectator‘s website.

Stop Press: The Guardian had a story on its front page today saying the Equalities and Human Rights Commission thinks a general certification scheme could fall foul of anti-discrimination law because it would restrict access to essential services for those groups less likely to get vaccinated – including migrants, those from minority ethnic backgrounds and those on low incomes.

Hospitality Leaders Tell Boris Johnson They Will Not Force Customers to Show Vaccine Passports

The pushback against vaccine passports continues to gather momentum. Earlier, we published a report on an open letter sent to the Prime Minister – signed by over 1,000 of the UK’s Christian leaders – warning against the introduction of “medical apartheid” under a vaccine passport scheme. Now, a new charter, “Open for All“, has been signed by more than 60 restaurant owners and other hospitality figures, telling Boris that they will not force customers to show Covid Status Certificates as a condition of entry. The Telegraph has the story.

In a letter to the Prime Minister… the signatories make clear their opposition to Covid status certification being used in hospitality settings. 

“We will not be forcing our patrons to show us any documentation referring to health status to gain entry,” one line of the letter reads.

The intervention is a shot across the bows of the Government as ministers consider whether to require restaurants and pubs to check the Covid status of customers.

Among the signatories are the CEOs of Rekom UK, which runs 42 nightclubs, and Tokyo Industries, which runs clubs, festivals and bars. Others backing the letter include senior figures at venues such as The Hippodrome Casino, Electric Star Pubs, Bocca de Lupo, Proud Cabaret, Brindisa and Burger&Lobster.

Alan Miller, the co-founder of Night Time Industries Association, who organised the letter, said: “The British people have been diligent and remarkable over this last year, and we’ve all waited for so long to get back to normal.

“We were told in January that vaccines were our way out, and that we were on a one-way road to freedom. It is a far cry from freedom if we are put in the position where pubs, clubs, festivals, shows and venues of any kind are forced to demand health papers. We won’t be doing it.”

The letter congratulates the Government for its successful vaccine rollout but insists that there are many reasons why some people may choose not to get a Covid vaccine, adding that it would be wrong for venues to ask customers to present health-related documents. It reads:

We have no axe to grind politically and many of us think the vaccine rollout has been tremendous for those who wish to take it.

We also know that for many reasons some will not have a vaccine.

Furthermore, we do not believe it is right that we, as premises and promoters, should demand to see proof of medical records or health status. The majority of people in the UK have chosen to be vaccinated.

There are many practical and logistical issues for us alongside civil liberty and discrimination considerations more broadly for society if venues or events insist on seeing any kind of health-related documents.

The Telegraph‘s report is worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Julia Hartley-Brewer has urged all hospitality business owners to sign up to the declaration to “[ensure] vaccine passports never happen”.

Christian Leaders Warn Against the Introduction of “Medical Apartheid” under a Vaccine Passport Scheme

Over 1,000 of the UK’s Christian leaders have signed an open letter to Boris Johnson warning against the introduction of vaccine passports, which would “risk creating a two-tier society, a medical apartheid in which an underclass of people who decline vaccination are excluded from significant areas of public life”. Its signatories also state that there are “no circumstances” in which they would close their church doors to those who do not have a vaccine passport. The letter has been sent to the Prime Minister, along with all MPs and devolved assembly members, and has been published in today’s Scottish Daily Express. It reads as follows:

Dear Prime Minister,

As Christian leaders across a range of denominations, we continue to pray at this time for your Government “and all in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:2).

However, we write to you concerning an area of the most serious concern, namely the potential introduction into our society of so-called “vaccine passports” which have also been referred to as “Covid-status certificates” and “freedom passes”. We are wholly opposed to this suggestion and wish to make three points about the potential consideration of any scheme of this type.

Firstly, to make vaccination the basis of whether someone is allowed entry to a venue, or participation in an activity, makes no logical sense in terms of protecting others. If the vaccines are highly effective in preventing significant disease, as seems to be the evidence from trial results to date, then those who have been vaccinated have already received protection; there is no benefit to them of other people being vaccinated. Further, since vaccines do not prevent infection per se even a vaccinated person could in theory carry and potentially pass on the virus, so to decide someone’s “safe non-spreader” status on the basis of proof of their immunity to disease is spurious.

Secondly, the introduction of vaccine passports would constitute an unethical form of coercion and violation of the principle of informed consent. People may have various reasons for being unable or unwilling to receive vaccines currently available including, for some Christians, serious issues of conscience related to the ethics of vaccine manufacture or testing. We risk creating a two-tier society, a medical apartheid in which an underclass of people who decline vaccination are excluded from significant areas of public life. There is also a legitimate fear that this scheme would be the thin end of the wedge leading to a permanent state of affairs in which Covid vaccine status could be expanded to encompass other forms of medical treatment and perhaps even other criteria beyond that. This scheme has the potential to bring about the end of liberal democracy as we know it and to create a surveillance state in which the government uses technology to control certain aspects of citizens’ lives. As such, this constitutes one of the most dangerous policy proposals ever to be made in the history of British politics.

Finally, as Christian leaders we wish to state that we envisage no circumstances in which we could close our doors to those who do not have a vaccine passport, negative test certificate, or any other “proof of health”. For the Church of Jesus Christ to shut out those deemed by the state to be social undesirables would be anathema to us and a denial of the truth of the Gospel. The message we preach is given by God for all people and consists in nothing other than the free gift of grace offered in Christ Jesus, with the universal call to repentance and faith in him. To deny people entry to hear this life-giving message and to receive this life-giving ministry would be a fundamental betrayal of Christ and the Gospel. Sincere Christian churches and organisations could not do this, and as Christian leaders we would be compelled to resist any such Act of Parliament vigorously.

We draw your attention to the recent Judicial Review overturning the Scottish Government’s ban on public worship, which demonstrates that such disproportionate prevention of the right to worship is a clear infringement under Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights. We cannot see how any attempt to prevent people from gathering for worship on the basis of either testing or non-vaccination would not similarly be ruled to be a breach. We agree with those members of Parliament who have already voiced opposition to this proposal: that it would be divisive, discriminatory and destructive to introduce any such mandatory health certification into British society. We call on the Government to assert strongly and clearly that it will not contemplate this illiberal and dangerous plan, not now and not ever.

Find the full list of signatories – which continues to grow – here.

Stop Press: This open letter has now been signed by over 1,200 of the UK’s Christian leaders.

Outdoor Sports Events Should Be Open to All, Including the Unvaccinated

Last week, the UK’s sports bodies wrote a joint letter to the leaders of the main political parties. It warned that the return of some spectators from May 17th will be “insufficient to end sport’s Covid financial crisis” because attendance will be capped at 25% of capacity in larger venues.

“Looking ahead to June 21,” the letter went on, “we support the Government’s ambition to secure the full return of fans, without restrictions if possible.” However, it also said, “All of our sports can see the benefit that a Covid certification process offers in getting more fans safely back to their sport as quickly as possible.”

In other words: the sports bodies want to get fans back into bleachers as soon as possible, preferably without restrictions, but if using vaccine passports is what it takes, then so be it.

However, my reading of the evidence is that vaccine passports would provide little benefit at outdoor sports events (which I assume covers most such events). And given objections that have been raised on grounds of privacy and non-discrimination, mandating them for all sports events seems like a very unwise idea.

To begin with, the percentage of people with COVID-19 antibodies is now well above 50% in England and Wales, as this chart from the ONS indicates:

The percentage will be even higher by May 17th, when spectators can finally return to stadiums. And it will be higher still when the next football season begins in August. Due to the seasonality of COVID-19, transmission is likely to be low over the summer, so by the time restrictions might be needed in September, a very large percentage of people will have some form of immunity.

What’s more, evidence suggests that the vast majority of infections occur indoors. This is because wind quickly disperses the virus in outdoor environments, and viral particles degrade more quickly when exposed to sunlight.

In Ireland, only 0.1% of infections could be traced to outdoor activities (though this doesn’t include all the associated indoor activities, such as travel to and from events). And despite England’s packed beaches last summer, the epidemiologist (and SAGE member) Mark Woolhouse told MPs there were “no outbreaks” linked to beaches.

A systematic review of five studies published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases found that less than 10% of infections occurred outdoors. And a recent study published in Environmental Research concluded that “the probability of airborne transmission due to respiratory aerosol is very low in outdoor conditions”.

Chris Whitty has said, “The evidence is very clear that outdoor spaces are safer than indoors.” And a paper by the PHE Transmission group notes, “Evidence continues to suggest that the vast majority of transmission happens in indoor spaces.”

Before the UK’s hugely successful vaccine rollout, the risk of outdoor transmission was low. By the time sports venues re-open on May 17th, the risk will be even lower. While there are some circumstances where Covid certification makes sense (like visiting relatives in care homes), attending outdoor sports events is not one of them. Instead of spending more time checking fans at the entrance, venues would be better off improving ventilation in high-risk spaces.

It’s time to get fans back into stadiums – but they should only have to show a ticket on their way in.

As Vaccine Passports Are Rolled Out Across the World, What Price Freedom?

We’re publishing an original piece by our in-house technology correspondent about the roll out of vaccine passports around the world and the dire consequences for personal freedom. Here is an extract:

When we look at death tallies and population level vaccination rates one has to question the motivation of the rush to implement this kind of technology. Take Brunei with a grand total of three COVID-19 deaths. It already has its app, BruHealth, which is used to restrict access to business premises and shows the “activity trace” of any nearby confirmed cases. They even used it for a while to control access to Friday prayers. Finland, with 868 deaths and 2% of its population fully vaccinated, has joined with Estonia (1,006 deaths, 5% vaccinated) to be one of the first to pilot a WHO scheme involving showing your immunity status to your employer. What could possibly go wrong? Australia, with 909 deaths and only 4% of its population vaccinated, is working with unions to determine domestic restrictions based on its Medicare Express Plus app which can access the national Australian Immunisation Register. The data suggests these countries do not have a problem that merits deploying technology to restrict the lives of 95% of their citizens for an indefinite period.

Worth reading in full.

Tell Your Local Conservative Candidate in the May 6th Elections You Won’t Vote For Them if the Govt Brings in Vaccine Passports

A reader has written in with a suggestion for how to influence the Government on Covid vaccine passports – “make the Conservative Party fear for their jobs”. Having received a Conservative Party leaflet for the local elections on May 6th (with the name and telephone number of the local candidate), the reader sent the candidate the following text.

Thank you for your letter and application to vote by post. Are you in favour of the use of Covid passports within the UK for access to venues and events such as sporting events, theatres, cinemas, restaurants and pubs? If you are in favour of Covid passports within the UK I shall not be voting for you. My vote will go to the Liberal Democrats, who – unlike the current Conservative Party – seem to be both liberal and democratic. If you are NOT in favour of the use of Covid passports within the UK, please lobby the local constituency office to have a word with Mr Gove that he should re-discover true conservative values. Thank you.

If enough people do this, a powerful message could be sent from the grassroots to Conservative Campaign Headquarters. But will they listen?

The Government’s Pretence That it Can Do nothing to Stop Employers Insisting on Vaccine Passports is Utter Hogwash

There follows a guest post by Dr David McGrogan, an Associate Professor of Law at Northumbria Law School. He is unconvinced by the Government’s claims that it can do nothing to stop employers introducing ‘No Jab, No Job’ policies.

It is still as clear as mud what form vaccine passports might take and where they will be required. Will employers be able to require employees to be vaccinated in order to come back to the office? Will pub owners be required to ask customers to ‘scan in’ at the entrance? Nobody quite knows.

What is for sure is that the Government’s position, as ever, is one of naked dissembling. Since March 23rd last year Government ministers have used their purported powers under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 to force businesses to close, to require the wearing of face masks in shops or public transport, to prevent people ‘mingling’, and much more besides. The scale of the interventions have been hitherto unimaginable. Yet when it comes to vaccine passports, all of a sudden the Government has discovered that we are best left to our own devices after all. It “believes that introducing a ban on [vaccine passports] would in most cases be an unjustified intrusion on how businesses choose to make their premises safe”, we’re told by a spokesman. Another source says the Government is “resigned” to the fact that employers will bar people who have not been vaccinated, and that it would not “legally be able to stop employees demanding [vaccination] as a condition of employment”. That’s right: it would be wrong – an unjustified intrusion, indeed! – to ban employers from requiring their employees to be vaccinated, or pub or restaurant owners from demanding it of customers. Moreover, it wouldn’t “legally” be possible at all. One imagines the members of the Cabinet sitting sadly and shrugging their shoulders “resignedly” at the prospect – they’d like to make vaccine passports unlawful, they really would, but what is an authoritarian Government with almost unlimited power to do?

Leaving aside the truly Orwellian warping of language here (it is apparently banning vaccine passports which would be the unjustifiable intrusion, rather than requiring their use!), this is utter hogwash. It is perfectly within the Government’s power to introduce legislation to the Commons banning employers from requiring employees to be vaccinated any time it chooses. Nothing would prevent it from doing so as a matter of legal principle (under our constitutional arrangements Parliament can create whatever legislation it wishes), and with its huge majority it would have no problem whatsoever having such a statute passed. And the Equality Act 2010 already makes it unlawful for shops, pubs, restaurants, etc. to discriminate on a number of grounds. The Act could be amended to include “vaccination status” as one of its protected characteristics, alongside disability, race, age, and so on, and that would be that.

If the Government intends to have vaccine passports becoming part of our ordinary daily lives it should have the guts to admit it, rather than spew this mealy-mouthed nonsense about not wanting to “intrude” in how businesses are run.

Keir Starmer Remains on Fence About Whether to Oppose Vaccine Passports

When the Government holds a vote on vaccine passports, the support of the Labour benches will be vital for a victory (presuming that a decent number of Conservative MPs vote “no”). But Keir Starmer has yet to decide whether to back the Government over the introduction of such certification and was “really angry” that an interview he gave to the Telegraph last week foregrounded his criticism of the idea. The Guardian has the story.

Keir Starmer is weighing up whether to support Covid status certificates in a vote within weeks for which he could lend the Government crucial support to pass one of its most controversial coronavirus policies.

The Labour leader has been hesitant to endorse a proposal that would mean people would have to prove they had been vaccinated, had a recent negative test or antibodies from prior infection in order to access venues such as theatres and sports stadiums. …

Labour is trying to keep its options open given that details about the plan are scarce, and will hope that attention remains on the splits within the Conservative party, where more than 40 of Boris Johnson’s backbenchers have branded the idea “divisive and discriminatory” and vowed to oppose it.

But after dozens of prominent Labour backbenchers, including the former party leader Jeremy Corbyn, also pledged to vote against the certificates, Starmer is being forced to decide whether he should give the Government the support it may need.

A Labour source said Starmer’s team was “worried that this issue splits the PLP [parliamentary Labour party] just like it splits the Tory party” and was “really angry” that an interview he gave to the Telegraph last week was headlined on his criticism of the Covid status certificates.

They admitted: “There isn’t really a consensus yet” within the party, though they predicted Labour would probably end up supporting the certificates “but probably not make much of a song and dance about it”.

The “reservations are real”, says another Labour source – but mainly around the “digital infrastructure” of Covid passports, rather than about their implication on liberty.

That’s about as much “opposition” as we can expect from the notional Leader of the Opposition.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Labour has called vaccine passports “discriminatory” and appears to be leaning towards opposing the Government on a Covid ID card scheme. The Guardian has the story.

The Shadow Health Secretary, Jon Ashworth, accused the Government of “creating confusion” by not explaining clearly where the documents may be needed, after Boris Johnson confirmed they were being investigated but would not be introduced earlier than mid-May.

“I’m not going to support a policy that, here in my Leicester constituency, if someone wants to go into Next or H&M, they have to produce a vaccination certificate on their phone, on an app,” Ashworth told BBC Breakfast. “I think that’s discriminatory.”

He added it made sense to ask people to get tested before going to events such as a football game, but warned that forcing everyone to carry an “ID card” proving they had been jabbed was not fair.

Worth reading in full.