The Guardian: LONDON, England – It is the question being asked with increasing urgency around the world, at least in countries where the vaccine is already available: how much freedom to live life as it was before the pandemic should be granted to those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19?
The passport, which would be given to those with two Pfizer shots, has been sold as a way to encourage people to be immunised, but is also viewed as a jump start effort for the economy. However, as there is uncertainty around whether vaccines reduce transmission, the idea has been met with scepticism.
Fear over the more transmissible virus variants have delayed a decision and legal issues are causing authorities a headache. A proposal to only allow vaccinated teachers to restart work has face pushback from those who argue it is an illegally coercive measure.
In the United States, President Biden asked government agencies to investigate the feasibility of producing digital versions of vaccine certificates in one of his first executive orders. Greece’s prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has proposed the EU push ahead with a common vaccination certificate that could help create a “fast travel lane.”
The reality is a universal document, probably digital, providing official proof that someone has been vaccinated against, or tested for, coronavirus may become a reality within months – as much a part of life as going out of the house with a face mask.
Major sporting events this year, such as Euro 2021, to be hosted by Italy, and the Olympics in Japan, are under pressure over the issue, not least because of the European Union’s problem with vaccine supply. Events may be in jeopardy if organisers insist only the inoculated can attend, but that could be the future for sport.
The president of the Italian football federation, Gabriele Gravina, has met scientific officials to discuss the partial reopening of its stadiums to supporters who have received the full two rounds of vaccination. The strategy, according to the leading Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport is to pave the way for the opening of Stadio Olimpico in Rome for major matches.
Germany’s ethics council has meanwhile ruled out allowing top sportsmen and women to jump the vaccination queue before the Olympics
In China, where an ambitious vaccination programme aims to see 50 million people immunised by the middle of February, authorities have reportedly been working on a plan to integrate vaccine records with the country’s ubiquitous health apps, which might allow travellers to bypass quarantine when journeying between cities and regions. High levels of fear over the virus’s resurgence have reportedly caused the plans to be put on hold.
Taiwan feels similarly cautious about vaccines replacing quarantine, which has allowed it to limit its cases to 924 with nine deaths. The mainland affairs council said in December anyone returning to Taiwan would still be required to go into 14 days quarantine whether they’ve been vaccinated or not.
The prospect of vaccine passports as well as cash payments have been raised in Hong Kong, in an attempt to encourage as many people to get immunised as possible when its vaccine programme begins in March, after just 46% of people surveyed by Hong Kong University last month said they would be willing to be vaccinated, due both to distrust of the government and fear of side effects.
In Brazil, 10 of 11 supreme court judges ruled in December that vaccination could be made indirectly obligatory by allowing schools, public transport, shopping centres and restaurants to demand proof of inoculation after the far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, said he would refuse a vaccine and defended the rights of others to do the same. “We’re fighting a pandemic – a pandemic that kills people,” Alexandre de Moraes, one of the judges, declared.
In France, which has high levels of vaccine hesitancy, several critics have said vaccination passports could be viewed as a backdoor way to making inoculation mandatory and the prime minister, Jean Castex, has said since legal challenges could consequently arise. “It would be surprising to make a vaccination certificate compulsory.”
France’s European affairs minister, Clément Beaune, has objected to the idea on grounds of equality, since vaccines have not yet been offered to all. “We are very reluctant,” he said. “It would be shocking, while the campaign is still just starting across Europe, for there to be more important rights for some than for others.”