‘Checkpoint Society’: Boris Pressures Venues to Adopt Vaccine Passports as a Matter of ‘Social Responsibility’

Track and trace QR codes are displayed outside a pub, in Manchester, north west England on October 13, 2020, as the number of cases of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 continue to rise. - The British government faced renewed pressure on October 13, after indications it had ignored scientific advice three …
OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images

Privacy campaigners have condemned as the makings of a “checkpoint society” calls by Prime Minister Boris Johnson for large venues to adopt entry by vaccine passport only “as a matter of responsibility”.

Announcing last night that the end of legal restrictions will come on Monday, Prime Minister Johnson nevertheless said that he and the government “expect and recommend that people wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces where you come into contact with those you don’t normally meet, such as on public transport”.

Johnson also pressured venues to adopt an NHS-enabled domestic vaccine passport, thus denying service to those without it, saying: “And as a matter of social responsibility we’re urging nightclubs and other venues with large crowds to make use of the NHS Covid Pass – which shows proof of vaccination, a recent negative test or natural immunity – as a means of entry.”

Civil liberties and privacy pressure group Big Brother Watch condemned the prime minister calling for vaccine passports, pledging to “name, shame, and boycott companies that demand divisive and discriminatory Covid Passes.”

“A checkpoint society will not make us any safer,” the group added.

The government is also planning to announce compulsory vaccines for care and NHS staff, with Big Brother Watch director Silkie Carlo saying on Monday with incredulity: “When I came into civil liberties campaigning, I never thought I’d be facing a snap vote on mandatory vaccinations in this country.”

Ms Carlo continued: “We’ve got the government lying, misdirecting, u-turns on Covid passes, we’re now got mandatory vaccinations. The really dangerous thing about this is the government can no longer say, ‘No one is forced to have this vaccine’, because there are lots of people who are going to face losing their jobs if they want to decline or delay vaccination.”

The prime minister’s push for vaccine passports comes after more than seven months of mixed government messaging and flip-flops. When the then-newly appointed Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi stated in December that the government was “looking at the technology and of course a way of people informing their GP that they’ve been vaccinated”, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove was quick to say: “I certainly am not planning to introduce any vaccine passports and I don’t know anyone else in government [who is].”

However, Mr Zahawi had pointed out that even if there were no mandated vaccine passports in law, venues such as stadiums or restaurants may demand them, and want to engage with them the way they did with the NHS app for tracking and tracing outbreaks — the suggestion nudged along further and forcefully by Johnson’s recommendation for using Covid Passes “as a matter of social responsibility”.

Mr Gove also went on to head the government review into domestic vaccine passports, with the review confirming this month that the documents may be introduced if there is a rise in cases.

“It is possible that certification could provide a means of keeping events going and businesses open if the country is facing a difficult situation in autumn or winter,” the report said, according to The Times. “Therefore, the government will keep the wider application of certification under consideration.”

There have been successive u-turns in the government since then, notably over whether Britons will need a vaccine passport simply to go to a restaurant or pub. Just last week, it was reported that while the government was reluctant to roll out passes for pints for next week’s easing of lockdown, Prime Minister Johnson’s administration is looking to roll out vaccine passports for pubs, clubs, and restaurants by the autumn.

Conservative MPs and Nigel Farage have warned in recent weeks that even with the end of restrictions this summer, “winter is coming” and Johnson could impose restrictions on Britons again as early as September.

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