Boris Johnson’s plans for covid ID cards raise all kinds of implications for civil liberties and racial equality. But they have a more fundamental problem than that: they won’t work.
This is probably why the coalition against them is so varied. Lockdown skeptics are suddenly, by a strange twist of fate, on the same side as Indie Sage. We can safely ignore the first group, but the last gets attention. They have repeatedly been ahead of the pandemic response curve and they are staunchly opposed to this proposal. It is worth investigating why.
Here’s the problem with this pandemic: We know what works. It’s about getting into the basics. We are following our existing vaccination strategy and simultaneously trying to suppress the virus. These two things should work in tandem, so we’re trying to achieve population immunity and get the virus under control as we go.
There are currently two great dangers. The first is another wave. Just because most older people have received immunizations does not mean that we are safe. More than 50% of the Chilean population has received a dose, but they have just gone into lockdown in the face of a big wave anyway. People who haven’t had any shots at all are also at risk. Many people in their 50s, 40s, and even 30s have underlying health issues. wise estimates we could lose between 9,000 and 20,000 lives over the summer.
The other, greater danger is the variants. They threaten to put us back to square one. Each new infection is a new opportunity for the virus to mutate. Mutations that are resistant to the vaccine will spread very quickly. It is a race, between the vaccine and the evolution of the virus, in which the two fight for domination.
That is why immunity is not enough. We need to remove the virus.
To do this, we need a functional test and trace system. It has become old fashion to talk about it. Johnson hardly seems to talk about it anymore at all. But this is the essential condition for preventing further waves of infection. This means that when an epidemic does occur, we can catch it and contain it before it explodes into the population.
Contact tracers should be local workers, who understand the area and can trace contacts, rather than the centralized call centers that we have needlessly set up hundreds of miles away that have no understanding of the people at hand. which they are dealing with.
Those who come in contact with someone infected with the virus should self-isolate and get tested. But at the moment, a lot people are not. The Covid-19 Rapid Survey of Adherence to Interventions and Responses study found only 52% self-isolated.
Many simply cannot afford it. The £ 500 payment to those who self-isolate only applies to those on benefits, meaning only one in eight workers are eligible. Faced with not making any money or even losing their jobs, many people continue to work. And then they keep spreading the virus.
We can also make it harder to infect people in the first place by properly ventilating schools, offices and places of care. There is a range of ventilation solutions: Unlock windows to open fully, maintain dedicated exhaust ventilation, use window fans to maintain air circulation, introduce portable filtration systems to improve air cleaning and deploy germicidal ultraviolet irradiation. But again, it costs money and requires special attention. And again, this is not done.
We can also close the borders. This may prevent a new vaccine-resistant variant from entering Britain. Europe is currently providing a grim case study. As of December, there were virtually no cases of the Kent variant on the mainland. It’s now responsible for more than 70% of cases in Denmark and between 50 to 70% of cases in France, Belgium, Italy and Germany.
This process can occur in reverse. In France between five and ten percent of cases are of the South African variant and yet people come to the UK from the country all the time. Border Force numbers – what the government is not doing “recognize” – suggest that around 20,000 people arrive in the UK every day, of which around 40% are on tourist visas.
If these things were done now, we could pretty much guarantee that we would never need another lockdown. We would have summer, and next fall we would be free to go out, work and socialize. Within six months, even social distancing should not be necessary. But if we don’t, we are completely vulnerable to chance. Maybe we’ll get lucky and no new variations will appear. Or maybe we won’t.
The main argument against covid ID cards is not particularly relevant to them. It’s just that they are not. We know what to do and we don’t. Instead, the government is frantically chasing another impractical and counterproductive high-tech solution.
They are also imperfect on their own terms. The current position of No.10, as far as can be discerned, appears to be that they will not be needed for essential purchases – for example to go to the supermarket. But they will be needed for big events, like football matches or nightclubs. And they might be needed for pubs and restaurants.
This last part is very confusing. Johnson won’t talk about it clearly. But the document the government released on Monday made it clear that this was the direction to go. “It is possible,” he says, “that certification of Covid status may also play a role in reducing social distancing requirements in other settings that people tend to visit more frequently, for example in establishments. reception. “
It’s a revelation. This corresponds to reports from inside the government that covid ID cards are seen as a way to eliminate the need for social distancing in pubs.
But there is a problem. Vaccines do not stop infections. You can still get covid once you’ve been vaccinated, you’re just much less likely to get sick, go to the hospital, or die.
There is certainly a reduction in the transmission of the virus from people who have the vaccine, but it is very unlikely to be complete and it is still too early to know exactly what it is. As the World Health Organization said this week, “We are not sure at this point that the vaccine is preventing transmission.” We also do not yet know for how long the vaccine provides immunity. It could last well over a year. It could take less than six months.
So now imagine we use covid ID cards to get into a pub and then eliminate social distancing inside. The windows are closed. People spend crowded hours there – drinking, talking, laughing, hugging, singing, shouting – whatever makes pubs the best places in the world and that the virus is also the most susceptible. to spread.
Some of these people may no longer have immunity. But even if they are immune, they can still be infected. This infection may not make them sick, but once they leave the pub, they can infect others who have not been vaccinated. And each time that happens, potentially more vulnerable people in the younger age groups are at risk. And there are more possibilities for the virus to mutate.
The government also seems to want people to get a covid pass if they took a test that day or the day before. But a negative test yesterday doesn’t mean you don’t have a covid now. And covid tests are very easy to play to avoid a positive result.
What we need is a removal strategy. But covid ID cards don’t provide it. In fact, they provide a false sense of security and then encourage some sort of behavior that could increase infections. It is actually an extension of the government’s continued weakness in prioritizing short-term economic interests over a long-term public health agenda.
The only other argument you can make about covid ID cards is that they might encourage people who are hesitant about the vaccine to hurry up and take it.
But the truth is, Britain has very low vaccine hesitancy rates. A survey yesterday by Ipsos MORI found that white Britons’ reluctance had fallen from 7% in January to 5% in March. Among Britons belonging to ethnic minorities, it fell from 22% to 6%.
People have reasonable concerns about vaccines. Many ethnic minorities instinctively distrust state institutions that have mistreated them in the past. This is why successful public health programs take root in communities. They talk to people rather than to them. They listen to their concerns and respond to them. They have GPs phoning around their patients, community room events, and local community leaders from different ethnic and religious groups talking to those who trust them.
Much has been said about Israel’s Green Pass system, which appears to be the model for the covid ID card system Johnson wants to implement here. But research suggests that the most effective measures were not coercive – they were about engagement and accessibility. Mobile vaccination units have been introduced in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish town of Bnei-Brak, for example, or in geographically remote Arab villages, and even in the central nightlife districts of Tel Aviv, offering food and free drinks, with experts on hand to answer questions and concerns.
Coercing people takes the exactly opposite approach. And that’s what covid ID cards ultimately do. They prevent you from participating in normal life unless you comply with them. This directly reinforces the central message of anti-vax activists: that vaccines are under state control. And it turns healthcare professionals and experts, who need the trust of communities to drive vaccine uptake, into objects of suspicion.
Covid ID cards are not the right solution to the wrong problem. They will not address the reluctance to vaccinate and will in fact threaten to encourage it. They will not prevent infections or mutations. They will not help the economy because they perpetuate the conditions in which it struggles. And they distract us from the very rudimentary things we should be doing to remove the virus.
They certainly pose a threat to civil liberties and racial equality. But they also fail on their own terms.