Vaccine passports are a slippery slope to lockdown. We do not want another Christmas of Covid misery
It is not comfortable voting against your own government, and I am certainly no serial rebel. In two years, I have rebelled just twice - on Covid curfews for hospitality venues, and on the National Insurance rise. Today, I will add a third rebellion, on vaccine passports.
I am a proud Conservative because it is our party that firmly believes in individual liberty and personal responsibility. That government should only step in where it is absolutely necessary.
In the face of a deadly global pandemic, it was right for the government to step in, both to protect public health, but also to support businesses and jobs through a period of economic turmoil.
As the months have passed, we have learnt a lot about the virus, helping improve treatment outcomes. However, we have also learned about the wider impacts of Covid. NHS waiting lists at record highs. Thousands of early cancer diagnoses missed. Neglected children missing school, their abuse not being noticed by teachers and social workers. A mental health catastrophe. And, not to mention, the impact on businesses, particularly those in hospitality and travel.
We must not introduce further restrictions unless they are absolutely necessary
I am deeply proud that we have successfully rolled out a rapid vaccination programme that has undoubtedly saved thousands of lives, and I am proud of the UK people for stepping up and getting jabbed to help protect their loved ones and neighbours. Now, alongside driving booster jab take up, we must get back to our principles of liberty and personal responsibility. We have accepted we need to learn to live with this virus, so should practice what we preach. We must not introduce further restrictions unless they are absolutely necessary, and unless they are proportionate to the threat we are facing, taking into account not just Covid public health impacts, but wider health and societal impacts too.
We are voting today on “vaccine passports”, either proof of a double jab or negative lateral flow test. The intention is to restrict Covid (mainly Omicron) from spreading in large venues.
A weak argument in favour of vaccine passports is that many of our European neighbours have introduced them, but this misses the point. France, for example, introduced them mainly to combat vaccine hesitancy, but with 81.3 per cent of the adult population double jabbed here, vaccine hesitancy is not a UK issue. Case rates in Europe have skyrocketed, calling into question the effectiveness of vaccine passports on this. If they don’t work, why introduce them?
Furthermore, the hybrid passport model is flawed. We know Omicron can still transmit between those who are vaccinated (although they are less likely to get seriously ill, so get your booster!). Even with proof of a double jab, you may take Covid into a nightclub and spread it to other punters who have tested negative.
But, regardless, how effective will checks be? Many people have reported attending venues where proof of negative test is required, and door staff have given it barely a cursory glance. And for those determined to cheat the system, it isn’t difficult to ask a mate to send a screenshot which likely wouldn’t be scrutinised.
We can’t blame the staff – hospitality venues are already stretched after a difficult few years, hiring people is expensive, and they already have heavy responsibilities on things like security checks and crowd control.
I am deeply concerned about what opening the door to vaccine passports may lead to. First nightclubs, then what? Talk of a supposed “Plan C” suggests introducing them next for pubs and restaurants too. How far will that mission creep go? We cannot allow ourselves to end up in a two-tier society. And, having seen huge protests in Austria and other European neighbours, the public may not allow it either!
We need to be realistic about Omicron. Let us not take the slippery slope to lockdown “just in case”. The wider societal impacts could be catastrophic.
Millions of people have made huge sacrifices over the past two years, particularly last Christmas. Let’s not plunge them into another Christmas of Covid misery.
Dehenna Davison is the Conservative MP for Bishop Auckland.
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