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Commentary: Should you need to show your vaccination status to enter a supermarket?

If UK ministers think vaccine passports are the right step, they should have the guts to enact it, rather than relying on others to make unpopular decisions for them, says the Financial Times’ Robert Shrimsley.

Commentary: Should you need to show your vaccination status to enter a supermarket?

A woman wearing a face mask pushes a shopping cart at a Tesco supermarket in Hatfield, Britain October 6, 2020. (Photo: REUTERS/Peter Cziborra)

LONDON: “Afternoon sir, vaccine passport please. Thank you. And, er, what’s the purpose of your visit to this Tesco? Business or pleasure?

“A bit of both, very good. If you have time you should definitely check out the poultry aisle. It’s very popular with visitors.

“And where have you travelled from today? Hawthorne Avenue, that’s just round the corner, isn’t it? Are you at the playing fields end or nearer the pizzeria? Yes, I drove down it once. Very nice part of the world.

“So just a few more questions. Are you carrying any fresh produce with you? No, excellent, and nothing anyone gave you to bring into the store? Like COVID-19, for example.

“What’s that, sir? Yes I can only apologise if it seems a bit cumbersome but these new COVID-19 passports are what is going to help us protect the NHS and save lives.

“We do have plans for biometric vaccine passports before too long, where you’ll be able to scan your eye and walk straight in. When will that be ready? By 2029 apparently.”


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I am sure we are all psyched for the arrival of COVID-19 passports here in the UK, especially if we can get them in dark blue like we used to have before we joined the European Union.

Okay, we will probably not need our vaccine passports when travelling to the fresh fish and molluscs section of our local supermarkets. The early targets are nightclubs and bars, so the likely questions will be whether you are on the pull or just there to get mullered.


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Immunisation certificates are back in vogue among some ministers as England plans its full reopening.

Suddenly alarmed at the risk he is taking, Boris Johnson is urging others to fill in the gaps in his own policy. Businesses are being nudged to consider introducing a form of ID cards so that he does not have to.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks outside Downing Street in London, Britain, July 7, 2021. (Photo: REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

I do wonder, however, if ministers have really thought through these vaccine passports. For a start there is the small issue of enforcement. Is the hard-pressed hospitality industry really about to hire a staff the size of the UK Border Force to ensure all may safely booze in Wetherspoons?

Indeed, since the UK government is now in the process of removing legal requirements, how many establishments are going to spend money on door staff so they can limit their own trade? Might they not reasonably argue that the UK government’s new creed of personal responsibility means those who are not happy with the risk can stay home?

There will be, I suppose, a small market for COVID-secure establishments and good luck to them. Many might feel easier returning to the cinema if they know the person next to them has been double-jabbed.

There are venues I’d be uneasy visiting soon – badly ventilated comedy clubs for one – and if enough people feel the same way then perhaps they will decide to take this step.


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But broadly this is one idea that can work only with a compulsion to which the UK government is ideologically opposed. 

While it holds open the threat of legislation (once all adults are vaccinated), it is running scared of its own MPs and other lockdown antagonists who already think they are Braveheart because they once tweeted against face masks.

There is an argument for using immunisation certification to cajole people into getting vaccinated even though not everyone can. 

But a government which cannot even bring itself to mandate masks on buses is not one which will find that degree of coercion easy. And many will be rightly uneasy about what would become a halfway house towards ID cards.


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Personally, I am still uncomfortable with domestic COVID-19 passports, though I can see their utility. But that is a separate point. The key issue is that such a step would be a major societal shift.

So if UK ministers think this is the right step they should have the guts to enact it themselves, rather than relying on others to take their unpopular decisions for them.

Or perhaps we can look forward to the new voluntary approach at UK borders. “Can I see your passport, sir? It’s up to you entirely. No? Well, no matter, welcome to Britain.”

Source: Financial Times/el


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