If the Government shies away from these so-called ‘vaccine passports’, Ministers will be accused of putting public health at risk. If they press ahead, they will be accused of putting civil liberties at risk.
Yet this issue has echoes of the national debate when Tony Blair contemplated the imposition of ID cards, it is also very different. Then, the justification was national security and the then government failed to convince the country that the measure was compatible with the British way of life, and that the data of individuals would be protected.
Now it falls to Mr Johnson to offer similar reassurances over liberties, and the integrity of official databases, in the aftermath of the worst global pandemic for a century. Yet, having spent so much of the past year curtailing individual freedoms with laws that are totally contrary to his libertarian instincts, the Prime Minister may have to put an extra demand on the forbearance of the British people in order for a more normal way of life to resume as quickly, as safely, as possible.
First, Mr Johnson must reassure the country about how he intends to remodel the NHS Test and Trace app – a piece of technology that commands little public confidence – or expand DIY testing of Covid. Next, he must place time limits on the duration of the legislation that will be required. Only then will it be clearer if this is the way forward – or not – for a return of crowds to sporting and cultural events. It’s that challenging.
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