Labour MSP, David Stewart, has consistently raised the issue of having a Covid passport , a record of some sort that would confirm vaccination which would allow the bearer to travel. He has been pressurising the Scottish Government for months to step up the pace of its work on the issue.
Michael Matheson, the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Connectivity and Infrastructure, in the Scottish Government, informed the Scottish Parliament’s Health Committee in that a Covid passport was now being explored with the agreement of all 4 nations in the UK.
Michael Matheson said:
“We are already looking to develop our own thinking around how it would operate through the data system we have within NHS Scotland, but we also have to be mindful of the ethical issues associated with this”.
Mr Matheson insisted his officials were working swiftly on the issue, and he said they were also engaging with the World Health Organisation “which is developing a set of data-specific regulations that could be applied universally”.
However, he believed it was too soon for the Scottish Government to allocate specific staffing or budget lines to this work.
David Stewart said he was “worried” Scotland was falling behind.
“My real worry is the train is leaving the station and we aren’t on it.
“I have been watching closely as many other countries, including Greece, are announcing -well ahead of the UK – their plans to bring in a Covid passport system for the recovery of their travel industries.”
Mr Matheson said:
“I think it’s far too early for ministers in Greece to say that they will be looking to welcome people from the UK this summer if they have a vaccine certificate.
“We don’t know what the state of the pandemic will be at national level. We don’t know what the situation will be in Greece and we don’t know where we will be with the vaccination programme.”
He said the practical operation, in his view, required some international agreement to ensure it operates effectively and adheres to necessary data standards.
He added: “I think there is still a considerable amount of work to be done in taking forward the whole concept.”
Commenting after the meeting, David Stewart said:
“Other countries are moving ahead with this, industry is doing it without government. I was keen to find out from the Cabinet Secretary if something was happening at Scottish Government level beyond just a generalised discussion with the UK Government.
“What we have essentially heard today is no specific funding or staffing has yet been allocated from the Scottish Government’s budget because they believe it is too soon. What are they waiting for?
“As someone who represents the Highlands & Islands tourism is of course our most important asset and product. I am looking at the future where we will have tourists coming safely to our area and Scots are travelling internationally again and I do not think the Scottish Government is giving this the urgency and attention that this issue needs.”
Orkney Constituency MSP Liam McArthur, LibDem, has been pursuing the issue of testing at entry points to the islands. That’s still not been decided either. [archived story: New #Brazilvariant & Vaccination #Covid19 Update]
By 11th of March Orkney, which has the lowest number of recorded positive cases in Scotland, had not had a case since 18th of February 2021. It is still in Level 3 restrictions.
What are the issues around a Covid passport?
A report published by the SET-C (Science in Emergencies Tasking: COVID-19) group at the Royal Society recommends a series of fundamental issues which need to be addressed before a passport system could be introduced.
Of foremost concern is that any passport should reveal if the holder is protected from illness and unable to transmit the virus. Passports would also need to show vaccine efficacy, international acceptance and if it is effective against new or emerging variants. And passports would need to be secure, legal and ethical
Professor Mills, Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science, explained:
‘Understanding what a vaccine passport could be used for is a fundamental question. Is it a passport to allow international travel or could it be used domestically to allow holders greater freedoms?
‘The intended use will have significant implications across a wide range of legal and ethical issues that need to be fully explored and could inadvertently discriminate or exacerbate existing inequalities.’
Professor Dye, Professor of Epidemiology in Oxford’s Department of Zoology, commented that it would be feasible but demanding to create a Covid passport.
‘An effective vaccine passport system that would allow the return to pre-COVID-19 activities, including travel, without compromising personal or public health, must meet a set of demanding criteria – but it is feasible.
‘First there is the science of immunity, then the challenges of something working across the world that is durable, reliable and secure. There are legal and ethical issues that need to be satisfied too.’
The 12 criteria drawn up by the panel of experts are that a passport should:
- Meet benchmarks for COVID-19 immunity;
- Accommodate differences between vaccines in their efficacy, and changes in vaccine efficacy against emerging variants;
- Be internationally standardised
- Have verifiable credentials;
- Have defined uses;
- Be based on a platform of interoperable technologies;
- Be secure for personal data;
- Be portable;
- Be affordable to individuals and governments;
- Meet legal standards;
- Meet ethical standards;
- Have conditions of use that are understood and accepted by the passport holders
Professor Dye said:
‘Huge progress has been made in many of these areas but we are not yet in the best position to use vaccine passports. At the most basic level, we are still gathering data on exactly how effective each vaccine is in preventing infection and transmission and on how long the immunity will last.’
Reporter: Fiona Grahame