THE row around “vaccine passports” has heated up, particularly in England where Boris Johnson seems determined to get as many young people infected with Covid-19 as possible by completely lifting all restrictions and safety measures, regardless of case numbers.
At the time of writing, Johnson may be facing a rare defeat in the Commons over the idea, which would see people who have already had both doses of the vaccine given more freedoms than those who have not.
After the deliberate hype over “Freedom Day”, people flocked to nightclubs, then were told that they’d need proof they’d been double vaccinated if they wanted to do the same in a few weeks’ time. Then, under pressure from opponents of vaccine passports, Johnson apparently told Tory MPs it was only a threat to “jolt” the young into getting vaccinated, despite a consensus from public health experts that threats and coercion will backfire.
The UK Government is destroying public trust, as well as increasing the human cost in lives and health harm. Though as the leaked messages from the Prime Minister have clearly shown, he doesn’t care. From his disregard for older people to pursuing a policy to encourage young people to mix and get the virus, he makes it increasing hard to doubt the allegation that he said “let the bodies pile high”.
In the wake of the existing generational injustice made worse by Covid, vaccine passports would deepen discrimination against those who have not yet been vaccinated. It would deepen inequality at a time when the country needs collective effort. Worse still, the confusion allows the anti-vaxxers who marched in London to spread misinformation about the safety and purpose of the vaccine itself.
Young people should have confidence in the vaccine. But the Government must support them instead of treating them as expendable and putting economic growth before lives.
And we can see from the reports of shortages in supermarkets, as Covid adds to the harmful impact of Brexit, that this UK Government only takes notice when it can measure the damage in GDP terms, rather than human life.
From the HGV driver who has returned to Europe because they are not welcome, to the supermarket worker who has been told to self-isolate because the rampant spread of the virus, the political choices of Boris Johnson are at the heart of this mess.
Brexit is a project of British exceptionalism and free-market extremism that cares nothing for the lives of ordinary people. This has now become the framing for the UK Government’s strategy for recovery from the pandemic too.
Trade Secretary Liz Truss was in Scotland this week, trying to keep a straight face as she argued that free trade is “key to tackling climate change”. A preposterous claim on so many levels. Free market ideology can’t end the climate emergency; it’s the reason why we are in this mess in the first place.
She argued against protectionism, despite it being one of the government’s key arguments for Brexit when it comes to fishing. No, the kind of protectionism she doesn’t like is the type which would guarantee jobs in renewable energy in Scotland.
Free market ideology is catastrophic for workers too, including those currently dependent on dinosaur industries like fossil fuels. Leaving their futures at the mercy of market forces would mean a repeat of Thatcher’s de-industrialisation, which destroyed communities.
The world is facing crises of our own making. Whether it’s the extreme weather events which are being generated in a changing climate, or the longer-term climate impacts on crops and living conditions, or indeed the emergence of new viruses which is also made more likely by environmental destruction, these crises are interconnected. They amount to a demand for human beings to change the way we live, including the market-led economies we’ve been running.
The pandemic and the climate crisis also show that we need global solidarity more than ever before.
Countries like Namibia currently have the worst daily death rates in the world, but the talk there is not about vaccine passports but whether people can get vaccinated at all, with less than 1% of Africa’s population having been fully vaccinated.
The UK Government pledged to give 80 million vaccines to Covax, the World Health Organisation’s initiative to get equitable access to vaccines for all nations. It has not yet given any. And it continues to block proposals to waive the vaccine patent rules, putting intellectual property ahead of the need to vaccinate the world.
In the face of our multiple and interconnected crises, of the environment, of public health and of inequality, solidarity and global co-operation are vital. They must be the basis of the economy we build now, instead of simply rebooting the free market model which has brought the world to the edge of the abyss.