Covid Scotland: How vaccine passports have 'become normal' around the world

From next week, if Dan Suciu wants to go to a public, indoor place with his family, he has to pay for his ten-year-old daughter to take a Covid test.

Vaccine passports are to be rolled out in Scotland next month.
Vaccine passports are to be rolled out in Scotland next month.

The government in Romania, where he lives, is to introduce a “green pass” system – akin to Scotland’s vaccine passport scheme, but far more wide ranging. And the country is not alone.

Scotland has stood as a lone wolf within the UK, sparking opposition from some businesses and members of the public after the Westminster Government U-turned on its decision to implement a similar scheme.

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However, across Europe and many other countries worldwide, similar passports are far more stringent.

Emilie Gay says vaccine passports have become a way of life in France.

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In countries including Denmark, Slovenia and Germany, people must prove a recent negative Covid test to enter venues such as restaurants if they are not vaccinated

In Ireland, indoor hospitality of any kind is only open to people who are double vaccinated or who have proof of recovery from Covid less than six months earlier.

Popular holiday destination Portugal insists on a vaccination pass for spas, group gym classes, casinos and large cultural events, as well as to enter a restaurant on Friday evenings and during weekends and public holidays.

Italy’s pass, however, allows people who have had just one dose of the vaccine to enter any public, indoor venue.

Many Chinese cities have also banned unvaccinated people from public places, including supermarkets and any form of public transport.

Is this the most stringent passport scheme in Europe?

In Romania, for anyone living in areas where Covid cases are deemed to be high, most indoor activities will be covered by the new pass, which requires holders to be either double vaccinated or prove a recent negative coronavirus test.

Unlike in Scotland, where only nightclubs or large events such as football matches or gigs require proof of vaccination, in Romania, almost every indoor setting, including restaurants, cinemas, gyms, museums and swimming pools is covered by the new rules, which also require businesses to operate at reduced capacity to allow social distancing.

A pass for large events has already been required in Romania for months.

However, also at odds with Scotland’s scheme, where only proof of vaccination is allowed, those who are not vaccinated are allowed to prove a recent Covid test instead – with testing mandatory for under-12s, who cannot yet receive the vaccine.

"My daughter needs to have a test if we want to go almost anywhere, once this is introduced,” says IT worker Mr Suciu, who lives in the capital Bucharest.

“Cases in Bucharest are not yet at quite a high enough level, but they are rising and I expect they will be in a few days.”

The cost of a lateral flow test is 30 lei – around £5, but in practice, prohibitively expensive for most Romanian workers, considering the average salary there is around 750 euros a month – less than a third of the UK average.

"Effectively, it is not an option for casual things,” says Mr Suciu. “It is only for if you really want to go somewhere, like a wedding.”

However, the Romanian government’s decision has so far met with little opposition – somewhat surprisingly in a country where vaccine take up is less than 30 per cent.

Although cases in Romania are still currently lower than in Scotland at around 4,000 a day in a country with a population of nearly 20 million, deaths are far higher.

"I fear we will make the European headlines with the most deadly fourth wave,” says Mr Suciu.

“However, there is not a lot of opposition to the green pass, as people living in cities, who are typically political and vocal, are pro-vaccine, whereas in the countryside, rules are not as likely to be adhered to – and people there are less mobile anyway, there are no theatres or restaurants, and cases are lower.”

Where were vaccine passports first introduced?

Vaccine passports for venues and events were brought in first of all in Israel, which withdrew the scheme following a successful vaccination programme, but then reintroduced it after cases began to soar due to the Delta variant.

France was also an early adopter of a passe sanitaire to allow people to enter restaurants, bars and even long distance public transport, in a bid to increase vaccine rates.

The idea worked and vaccine rates soared over the summer, taking France to becoming one of the most vaccinated countries in the world.

Now the debate is raging as to whether the pass will continue beyond its current end date of October 15.

Emilie Gay, a graduate of the University of St Andrews, lives in Paris with her husband and two young children.

"At the beginning, a lot of people were opposed to the pass sanitaire, saying it was against values of freedom of movement, but that has gradually faded and for most people it is just a way of life,” says Ms Gay, an economist.

“When it was introduced in August, it was hard for people who had not had time to get fully vaccinated – August is the holiday month in France and without it, you couldn’t get into zoos, museums, shopping centres or restaurants.

"It is pretty straightforward. It was quite nice as things were quiet and you felt very safe. The pass is on a QR code and you just flash it at the door of wherever you are going in to. It has become normal.”

How vaccine passports have been opposed in France

However, not everyone is yet in favour.

In Paris, thousands of protesters have taken to the streets every week for ten weeks, with an estimated 80,000 people taking part in protests across the country last weekend.

One protester, a retired university professor, told French newspaper Le Figaro she believes the pass is a “perverse way of imposing the vaccination requirement".

"I am amazed to see that we can continue to debate this,” she says. “I intended to get vaccinated in May and the vaccine propaganda dissuaded me.”

The implementation of passes has caused friction in many places – an issue that critics of the Scottish passport have raised.

In New York, a waitress was attacked last week after asking a group of diners for proof of vaccination in accordance with new local regulations, which could see indoor venues such as restaurants and cinemas fined $1,000 [£731] if they do not check customers’ status. The 22-year-old was taken to hospital after being repeatedly punched by the diners.

A recent study published by Imperial College London found people in Israel and the UK who were reluctant to take the vaccine would be less likely to do so if their government mandated vaccination or testing to take part in social and recreational activities.

Dr Talya Porat, author of the report, tells The Scotsman the less inclusive a vaccine passport is, the more likely people who are reluctant to take a vaccine are to continue to refuse it.

She says: “It is about free will and control. In Israel, a negative test wasn’t a possibility either and people there felt very frustrated.

"I think the more inclusive it is, the better. In Denmark, the pass included people who had had a recent infection, or if someone could prove a negative test.

"It doesn’t then become abut he vaccinated and the unvaccinated and that’s what we want to prevent.”

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