Businesses and people are anxious to get some sort of normality, particularly in countries where vaccine rollout is reaching critical mass. While the majority in Ireland have no immediate access to the vaccine those that do want certain levels of restriction removed or reduced.
This is very understandable. Both nationally and internationally the tourism, entertainment and hospitality industries are keen to get summer 2021 up and running particularly for those who have the vaccine. But things are never that simple.
There has been widespread talk of a vaccine passport among many countries with Poland being one of the first countries to test this concept and Israel introduced this recently as well. Here in Ireland talk continues on vaccine credit or bonus.
Put simply, a vaccine passport is a certificate (digital or otherwise) that confirms one has had the vaccine. This confirmation then would allow the holder access to certain freedoms currently unavailable in lockdown; travel, attend large gatherings etc.
The first issue that strikes me with this strategy is it bypasses the legal debate over mandatory vaccinations, by making the COVID-19 Jab effectively de facto mandatory because if one's civil liberties are to be restricted should one choose not to get the vaccine, then one has little choice to take it to have a normal life and access one's civil liberties.
Two other issues arising from that is what happens to those who for whatever reason can’t have the vaccine or more commonly what happens to those of us who have no access to the vaccine and are priorities last to even be offered the choice.
Therefore a minority of people will receive special privileges not enjoyed by the majority because governments and corporates failed to roll out vaccines promptly.
In terms of travel between member states The EU has addressed this directly by emphasising;
“All EU citizens have a fundamental right to free movement in the EU and this applies regardless of whether they are vaccinated or not.”
So at the EU level, their passport strategy includes previsions for those without vaccination to enjoy the same freedoms as long as they hold a test certificate or recovery certificate.
However, one obvious question not been discussed is; Those who don’t have the free vaccine will be expected to provide certification of a negative RT-PCR test. The question here is will this test be free or will a citizen be required to pay and if there is a cost, then citizens with the vaccine have a greater privilege while those without will be forced to pay for their ‘fundamental right to free movement’ per 72-hour test travel window.
The question also is asked if such a strategy is in place how is it justifiable or even legal for Ireland to have any sort of restriction on movement between it and another EU state. This relates to mandatory quarantining on arrival to Ireland.
Currently, Austria is the only EU state on the quarantine list but the government are considering adding Germany, France and Italy. The government have explicitly stated the hotel quarantining strategy is specifically designed to disincentive travel.
But if one has a fundamental right to travel around the EU, the cost alone is an unreasonable burden making it a de facto ban on travel between member states, especially when the mandatory length is 12-14 day with no option to shorten it using a negative test on day 5 to end early, which some countries like Austria, currently allow.
Another side to this is someone leaving Ireland (mainly a resident) the government have domestic travel restrictions in forced meaning domestically we are breaking national law to get to the airport unless your 5km to an airport.
On a national level, Ireland has already allowed people with completed vaccines to meet indoors, this sets a precedent for businesses (currently looking likely to open for outdoor dining in the coming months) to demand vaccinated person be allowed to dine indoors, while those without must dine outside. In Ireland, that strategy is very much treating those who through no fault of their own, have not got the vaccine treated like the dogs and let outside in the elements.
The obvious solution to this is free, unlimited, on-demand testing for people who haven’t been vaccinated to undertake prior to attending public areas like restaurants, hair salons, concert halls etc. But will the government do this?
Five walk-in test centres have been set up in high rates spread areas across Ireland aimed at picking up asymptomatic cases and the Irish Times reports the HSE call this “enhanced Covid-19 testing”
So it's not about setting up for on-demand testing to get services back up and running. Perhaps this programme could be expanded to facilitate, but again will the government do this?
Society could become two-tiered with restrictions on civil liberties for a majority of citizens particular younger individuals who are least at risk to the virus but are prioritised list for vaccinations.
This is very much a developing area and I will return with an update and analysis later in the week as more news arises.
Until then Stay Sane!
Part 4 - How other countries managed COVID?
Part 5 + Where are we now?