'Freedom passports' may be best way to save businesses

‘Freedom passports’ may be best way to save businesses: Documents showing you have been vaccinated or are immune to Covid-19 offer the chance to break free from cycle of contagion and lockdown, writes JEREMY KING

So far, the vaccination programme has been presented as the only hope of escape from this pandemic. 

But the reality is dawning that it could take months before enough jabs are administered to provide immunity across the population, by which time the economic damage will be horrendous.

However, there could be another far swifter way back to a form of normality if the Government is willing to grasp it.

The answer lies in offering ‘Covid passports’ to those who have been vaccinated or have acquired immunity because they were exposed to the virus and have therefore developed antibodies.

Coronavirus passports would give their users the freedom to go to pubs, restaurants, schools and workplaces. (Stock image)

Exploiting the more successful elements of the test and trace technology, the digital passport would use a phone app which would give proof of immunity. 

Such passports would give their users the freedom to go to pubs, restaurants, schools and workplaces, thereby providing a huge boost to the economy.

Although the Government has awarded contracts to two firms for ‘exploratory’ work on the proposals, ministers denied they are planning to introduce such a system.

But they should not be so negative. The passport offers the chance to break free from a cycle of contagion and lockdown.

Covid passports would be especially good news for my sector, which often feels like it has been singled out for punishment.

Restaurants and bars have been a prime target for every new wave of restrictions yet all the evidence is that with rates of transmission below 3 per cent, they are far less dangerous than supermarkets and private homes. 

In our London restaurants, just four members of staff have contracted Covid since July, less than 1 per cent of the workforce. 

These low rates are partly due to the efforts that owners have undertaken to make their venues Covid-secure. Digital passports would enhance that security.

Covid passes should be made attractive through their positive capacity to enrich life, not through the negative threat of retribution by the state. (Stock image)

Another benefit is that they would bring clarity to a bureaucratic, oppressive structure built on excessive complexities, arbitrary judgments and mixed messages. The tier system has so many conditions that it’s almost incomprehensible, even to the authorities who are meant to run it.

In the face of Covid, most customers have been remarkably understanding. But I detect patience is wearing thin. More people are refusing to abide by the rules on social distancing and mask-wearing.

Some justify this disdain by claiming to be immune, which puts staff in a very difficult position. My trade is meant to provide pleasure, not act as an agency of the state.

But this deepening mood of resentment would be instantly punctured by the introduction of Covid passports, which would not only put the responsibility back on the individual but would also provide clear evidence of customers’ health status.

Inevitably there will be objections to this policy on the grounds of civil liberties but such criticism is misplaced.

Far from undermining our freedoms, Covid passports will bring them back allowing us once more to travel, shop and dine. Without passports, the Government will continue with its brutal lockdown across most of the country and what could be more authoritarian than that?

But to reinforce our long-cherished rights, three vital conditions must be met. First, as with the vaccine, such digital passports must not become compulsory.

If some people do not want to have them that should be their choice, just as no British citizen is forced to carry an international passport or identity card. 

Covid passes should be made attractive through their positive capacity to enrich life, not through the negative threat of retribution by the state.

Second, there should be no queue-jumping by the wealthy or the privileged – everyone should have equal access to these passports if they qualify. And third, the Government must be rigorous in cracking down on any black market in fraudulent digital passports.

If criminality gained any hold, it would make a mockery of the system so digital security must be a priority, accompanied by tough sentences for offenders.

The Government has not covered itself in glory over its response to Covid. Too often it has over-promised and under-delivered.

But Covid passports represent a golden opportunity for ministers to redeem themselves. Here, finally, is something that could help our economy instead of battering it.

Jeremy King is co-founder of Corbin & King restaurant group

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