The introduction of health passes in France and Italy has seen people rioting in the streets, claiming it limits their personal freedom. But some form of demonstration that you’re not a health risk to others is increasingly likely to be adopted here as well.
It’s already happening to some extent, with WA’s requirement for travellers from NSW to show evidence that they’re vaccinated against COVID-19, and construction workers from Sydney hotspots needing to be vaccinated in order to go back to work.
Why should we need health passes?
Anyone following the news in NSW will have noticed the outrage expressed by people in some regional areas where the current Sydney outbreak was spread by individuals who went there from Sydney. In a pandemic situation where an extremely infectious disease is creating havoc, the danger is spread by people travelling from one place to another.
It only takes a single individual to transmit the virus to a new location where it hasn’t previously taken hold. In the present circumstances, this means the action of one person – whether reckless and knowing or not – can literally wreck the health or the livelihood of hundreds – or even thousands – of others.
Even if 99.9% of the population comply with the public health rules about staying at home, human nature is such that some people are bound to make exceptions for themselves, and think it won’t matter. Unfortunately, sometimes it does matter, it matters very much.
‘Limits our freedom’
Claims that a health pass or vaccination passport would infringe on our civil liberties, invade our privacy or limit our personal freedom raise the question: freedom to do what?
Our personal freedoms are already limited in many ways – we are not free to rob, maim or murder, and the freedom to capriciously shout ‘Fire!’ in a crowded cinema (when there’s no fire) has long been viewed for what it is: malicious, destructive and without any justification whatsoever.
The freedom to spread infectious diseases among young children is already limited by public health rules in many Australian jurisdictions – in NSW and Victoria, for example, primary schools are required by law to check the vaccination status of enrolled students in relation to vaccine-preventable diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and certain other communicable diseases.
Parents of children who have not been immunised against specified diseases are not able to access some childcare and family tax benefits. Across most of the country, parents of children who have not had the recommended vaccinations are banned from enrolling their children in childcare centres, for the very good reason that people should not be free to infect healthy children.
Decades ago, if you wanted to travel overseas from Australia, you had to have a little booklet entitled ‘International Certificates of Vaccination’, which detailed when and where you’d been vaccinated against smallpox, cholera and yellow fever, as well as others such as polio and typhoid.
So, a vaccination passport would be nothing new – merely the reinstatement of a longstanding attempt to protect people from vaccine-preventable diseases.
Vaccine passports in other countries
In France, residents have been required since late July to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test if they want to eat at restaurants or cafés, go to a cinema, attend a sports venue or catch a train to another city. Italy, too, is set to introduce a vaccine passport for many social activities.
Now the European Union will issue EU citizens (and those of Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein) with a digital COVID certificate (or a paper version) if they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19, recently had a negative PCR test or recently recovered from COVID-19. In principle, anyone holding a certificate should not be subject to testing or quarantine when crossing a border in the EU.
And in the UK (no longer a member of the EU), an ‘NHS COVID Pass’ is a similar type of ‘vaccination passport’.
While in some countries thousands have taken to the streets in protest, polls show that most people support the health pass. And the evidence is that it’s working – vaccination rates have gone up.