Covid vaccine passports should be expanded to become full-blown medical ID cards – Alastair Stewart

I'm now perpetually scared of Covid-19. I'm not sitting around, waiting for the other shoe to fall. But I seem to be part of the silent majority seriously worried that normalcy is a pipe dream.

Scottish government guidance is both encouraging a return to normal and advising people to be diligent. Last weekend, in the space of five minutes, one government radio ad told me to breathe easier as things get busier, then a second told me to be cautious because of the Covid surge. So which is it?

I feel I have Terminator-type scanning when assessing people and places now. It is worse when somebody needs to enter my home for a repair or a delivery. All that data comes up on my mental screen, computing the odds they have the virus. How many other houses have they been in? God, that mask slipped below his nose. Ugh, he's not wearing gloves!

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I am no more a hypochondriac than anyone else. Eighteen months of Pavlovian conditioning about a health apocalypse cannot, and should not, disappear overnight. My zeal is because of vulnerable family members, as much as my own well-being.

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Vaccine passports offer a critical lifeline, but not in their present form. SNP and Scottish Green MSPs backed the scheme, which launches on October 1, requiring people going into nightclubs and big sports stadia to show their Covid vaccination status.

Arguments that vaccine documentation stigmatise people do not add up. If anything, they provide freedom denied to the most vulnerable who have been largely housebound and fearful since the pandemic began. The immuno-suppressed are in constant danger and share the same challenge with older people. Both groups rely on people delivering to their homes. Big events with lots of people are a dangerous challenge.

The Scottish Lib Dems have made distinct, striking blows on the illiberal nature of vaccine passports. It's a classic, straightforward liberal point: why should I have to share my medical data with anyone to access goods and services?

People have their Covid 'passport' checked before they enter a cinema in Paris (Picture: Alain Jocard/AFP via Getty Images)People have their Covid 'passport' checked before they enter a cinema in Paris (Picture: Alain Jocard/AFP via Getty Images)
People have their Covid 'passport' checked before they enter a cinema in Paris (Picture: Alain Jocard/AFP via Getty Images)

But why does the Scottish government not serve up some serious meat for the Liberals to attack. Current proposals lack any genuine ambition for how to ensure we protect the most vulnerable. They focus on large gatherings; everything from travel to clubs to pubs is centred on those who have their full liberty. Society once again forgets hidden illnesses, disabilities and plights.

Wales will introduce a NHS Covid Pass, but people can also present a recent negative lateral-flow test. With predictable oscillation, the UK government has already dropped plans for a similar scheme in England.

Suppose the Scottish government is really as bold as it thinks it is. In that case, it should be mandating a consolidated vaccine app that can present proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid test. The purpose shouldn't just be to scan but to see from a distance on a doorstep.

The right to ask for such proof should be protected by law. It should be socially unacceptable to even think of entering someone else's property for a delivery, repair, or caring responsibility without having this to hand. It would foster confidence and build on the social graces established with face masks. Proof of this nature should be as bog-standard and as logical a safety move as asking for ID from strangers at the door.

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No pass, no access. Such an encompassing technology would not only help to reopen the economy fully, but it would also place the onus of responsibility on each of us. It is no one else's fault if I lose my passport before a flight. I do not object when asked for my driver's licence when behind the wheel.

The missing component in the debate so far is the reality of global health security. It is on par with smoking and drink driving (or should be). Scotland has moved beyond the idea that your right to enjoy a cigarette trumps my right not to breathe in toxic smoke. Being enclosed with individuals who may have Covid-19, or worse, having them enter your home, is significantly more dangerous.

Such a culture shift towards complete documentation bucks the trend of government mood swings. They might flirt with removing all restrictions today or merging amber and green lists tomorrow – it would only half matter. To combat front-door fear, people who have been cut off could ask for medical proof – it would be as robust as a mask and signal a very significant return to the normalcy we all covet.

If nothing else, this might go some way to combating compliance fatigue. Even anecdotally, there seems to be a decline in thorough handwashing and face masks. Like statutory coronavirus powers, a full vaccine passport would be temporary. The revised scheme would be scrutinised by parliament. No one wants this forever. But if we're going to do it, there should be no half measures.

Much of the reluctance and objection so far seems superficial. For years mobile phones have had elective health data options. Smartwatches track everything from my sleep to my weight. I can share my health information in ways that ensure doctors have access to it. Many of the means to do what has to be done are there, but we dance around the hard choices.

It is difficult to reconcile a moral debate over what is essentially a wartime situation. The military has been deployed to handle ambulance driver shortages. A QR code to protect your right to go clubbing is the least of society's problems. A vaccine passport, complete in its record and transparent in its purpose, is a necessity.

The first step would be to change the name from 'vaccine passports'. It sounds like an absurdly cheerful opt-in. The Lib Dems and others are incorrect in calling their present iteration a medical ID. But that's precisely what we need, and we should call it what it is.

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