He’s at it again. For the third time, Tony Blair and his Institute are calling on the Government to introduce Covid passes as “a matter of priority”, asserting that they will reduce cases to a “fraction” of their current rate. With so many things he might be turning his attention to at this time, the former PM’s obsession with vaccine passports is starting to seem odd.
Vaccine passes are no solution to coronavirus transmission. Their proposal rests on the assumption that unvaccinated people are responsible for the spread of coronavirus, and that vaccinated-only gatherings are the only safe space. If drinking, dancing and socialising were limited only to those who have received two doses of a Covid jab, this line of reasoning assumes, we’d get on top of case rates.
This, of course, is nonsense. For one, not only will ‘vaccinated only’ spaces still see coronavirus circulating but they could create an unrealistic sense of invulnerability among those visiting. Secondly, case rates are climbing, despite a vaccine uptake of over 85%. Data published by the UK Health Security Agency suggests that Covid rates are similar between over-18s who have received a Covid vaccine and those who haven’t.
Lateral flow tests, which are currently an option for those presenting their Covid status in Wales, are seen by some as an alternative approach because it bypasses the coercive and discriminatory elements of a vaccine-only pass. This too, however, is a dead-end. The Innova lateral flow tests bought in bulk by the UK have questionable accuracy for healthy, asymptomatic people — that is, the very way they are used for Covid passes. The FDA was scathing about the tests, warning Americans to throw them in the bin rather than use them.
Not only this, but there are already suggestions from the Government that lateral flow tests will not be free forever. At some point people who haven’t been vaccinated (for whatever medical, religious or philosophical reason) will be forced to pay through the nose, just to participate in society.
Against this background, it is not surprising that Covid passes are seen by many as a tool of coercion. Indeed Nicola Sturgeon let it slip that allowing people to take a test instead of showing vaccine status would “let people off the hook” of vaccination. Public health should be based on education, encouragement and support, not exclusion and punishment.
It’s starting to be feel like Tony Blair is trying to finish off the failed ID cards project of his premiership. He should find a new pet project.
Madeleine Stone, Big Brother Watch Legal and Policy Officer.