Covid Passports: The Advent of a New World of Restrictions

Covid Passports: The Advent of a New World of Restrictions

With the world now re-opening after the another hit from the coronavirus pandemic, people are looking to get out, get some sun, and get on holiday. However, this has also brought on many conversations surrounding covid passports or passes around the world.

The Chinese Government call their new passport the International Travel Health Certificate, the UK Government has proposed the Covid Status Certificate, and the EU has the Digital Green Certificate.

The theme of these passports is mainly digital. The non-mandatory Chinese vaccine passport, introduced on the 8th of March, is a mainly digital mechanism contained on WeChat. Similarly, the UK are considering adding to the NHS app a covid certificate, and the EU are creating the digital passport to prevent paper frauds.

Japan also has plans to create a digital passport, replacing the current paper format, but have not given a release date – although they have confirmed they will not be ready before the 2021 Summer Olympics.

While other countries have delayed on the release of the Covid Passport due to privacy concerns, the Chinese vaccine passport has already been released, according to the Foreign Minister, in order to “facilitate safe and orderly flow of personnel”.

Covid Passport China
Chinese Vaccine Passport from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, 2021.

As seen in the picture above, these apps track the user’s vaccination status, recent COVID-19 test results, and the recent antibody test results.

Most of these are based on the International Air Transport Association mobile app. This app informs travellers what guidelines are in the countries they are travelling to and from.

To look more in-depth at this issue there are two key areas: the security of the user’s information, and the possible repercussions of a segregated society.

Security and GDPR

Opposition to the threats of the covid vaccine passport and the problems it may bring has already surged in the UK, with 70 MPs and Peers promising to vote against it and the proposals joined with it. Clive Lewis, Labour backbench MP, commented in a conversation with the Telegraph:

“I imagine there is a calculation [in Labour HQ] that this is something for which there isn’t support across the party. It would also be an opportunity, if there is a large number of Tory rebels, to inflict a possible defeat on the Government which, especially with an 80-seat majority, is a rare opportunity.”

Along with the official opposition, there is an online petition against the implementation of the vaccine passport which had just under 350,000 signatures on April the 21st. This was, however, debated on the 15th of March, where the government responded:

“The Government is reviewing whether COVID-status certificates could play a role in reopening parts of our economy, reducing restrictions on social contact and improving safety.”

Following along the lines of protecting citizens’ rights and privacy, the US has since ruled out a federal passport.

This however still remains a topic of debate elsewhere in the world. The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee in the UK had a meeting on the 23rd of March, announcing an inquiry into COVID-19 certifications and are still currently investigating the matter.

Silkie Carlo, Big Brother Watch’s director, has led the civil rights company’s campaign to prevent COVID-19 Vaccine Passports. Regarding these issues, Carlo said:

 “as soon as you think about the protections you need to put in against fraud, then that passport itself will have to contain quite a lot of information.”

The primary concern here is that, like the 1 billion fraudulently offered across the EU, the covid passport could also be a focus for fraudsters.

With or Without

Along with the threat on people’s rights, these passports would also segregate people along the lines of ‘with or without’ the vaccination.

The potential and current restrictions on travel in the EU break the guarantee from the European Court of Human Rights on Article 2 – the right to freedom of movement within the territory of a state and the freedom to leave any country. Rather, the new covid passport can be used to “give individuals exclusive rights, to services or public places”.

This therefore prevents a significant portion of the population who do not hold these papers the right to freedom of movement. A worrying thought is that this precedent could also affect the freedom of assembly or religion, setting the bar for discrimination when it comes to employment, housing, or education – with those having received the vaccine getting top priority.

Furthermore, it has been warned by the European Human Rights Commission that it could create a “two-tier society whereby only certain groups are able to fully enjoy their rights”.

Japan has promised that their digital passports will be used only for international flights and not domestic work to prevent this human rights violation and they are even crafting anti-discriminatory guidelines for people unable to get the vaccine. In a speech by Japanese Vaccination Policy Chief, Taro Kono, on April 9 he stated:

“There is no problem with local bodies and private companies doing positive things for people who receive vaccinations. But we want them to avoid excluding people or putting them at a disadvantage just because they haven’t been inoculated.”

International Travel with the Covid Passport

The final point we should consider is what the Covid Passport could mean for international travel.

While the UK Foreign Office has announced the introduction of the Covid Passport for the 17th of May and the EU for June, it does not mean you can go everywhere. Places like India and Brazil are no-fly zones for many countries due to safety concerns.

There’s also the question of whether the Covid Passport will be internationally recognised, and what restrictions will be put in place as a result.

Furthermore, the UK and other countries still have the potential to enforce hotel stays and regular testing, which would cost people a minimum of £1,750. The BBC documented the details:

“£1,750 fee for an individual includes the hotel, the cost of transport, and testing. The additional rate for one extra adult or a child aged over 12 is £650, and for a child aged five to 12 it is £325. It will cost £1,750 for the hotel stay per person.”

These costs for an enforced stay are highly unreasonable at best, and at worst could be responsible for stopping many people from going on holiday at all.

These recent developments on the Covid Passport and the new quarantine rulings dash the hopes of people after over a year of restrictions, rules, and fines.

Even if they are justified in having Covid Passports, the potential safety and social problems are enough to make people pause. Are they needed? Are they fair? What information will they take? How will it be protected?

If anything, we know that these questions and many more need to be answered before Covid vaccines can be fully accepted by the world.

Illustration by Sanni Pyhänniska.

Looking for more? Check out Mouthing Off’s Politics & News Section.

About The Author

Lloyd Watts

I am from Portsmouth in Hampshire and I am currently studying International Relations at the University of Warwick. My main areas of interest in writing are in politics, history and sport. In terms of other hobbies I enjoy playing sports, mainly rugby and I love to game and read.

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