Mercedes Hutton: Vaccine Passports ‘an Enormous Can of Worms’ That Will Widen Societal Divides


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Among the countries in question are Australia, South Korea, Nigeria, Greece, India, Italy, Pakistan, Israel, Norway and Indonesia, according to the Global Times.

By  South China Morning Post

Among the benefits of receiving a Covid-19  vaccination – beyond protecting yourself and perhaps others from the disease, of course – is that it’s probably one small step towards the resumption of international travel. For former frequent fliers itching to take to the air once again or anyone who hasn’t seen their family for many months, the prospect of a “vaccine passport”, documentation proving that you have been vaccinated against Covid-19, is especially alluring. For the travel industry, the concept is being heralded as a silver bullet.

It’s also “an enormous can of worms”, according to Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Britain’s Imperial College London, who argues that the use of such documents could “create a tiered society of vaccinated, and unvaccinated” in a recent interview with Al Jazeera. In a world where millions are stateless and therefore denied access to health care, education and employment, additional documentation – particularly digital documentation – that proves inoculation or immunity against the coronavirus could widen societal divides.

Additionally, as professor Ben Cowling of the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health writes on Hong Kong-based news site Citizen News, “Falsification and forgery of vaccination passports could also become an issue.”

Then there is the complex issue of establishing global standards for such certificates. “One key element vital for the restart of tourism is consistency and harmonisation of rules and protocols regarding international travel,” Zurab Pololikashvili, secretary general of the United Nations World Tourism Organization, told The New York Times. Needless to say, it all gets rather political rather quickly.

Still, that hasn’t stopped several countries from rolling out schemes as they try to restart stalled economies and tourism industries. China, for example, has launched a digital health certificate for its citizens that works with social media platform WeChat and includes details of whether a person has been vaccinated as well as test results for Covid-19 and antibodies, all neatly tied up in a QR code.

“China stands ready to discuss with other countries the establishment of mutual recognition mechanisms for health code information on the basis of accommodating each other’s concerns,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian at a press conference on March 8. “This will facilitate the issuance of visas, thus making cross-border travel much easier and contributing to the healthy, safe and orderly people-to-people exchanges.”

And Beijing has since given new meaning to the concept of vaccination passports, extending a warmer welcome to travellers who have received China-made Covid-19 jabs.

On March 16, state-run tabloid Global Times reported that “Chinese embassies in at least 20 countries have […] begun offering facilitation to visa applicants who have been inoculated with China-produced Covid-19 vaccines as part of efforts to resume international exchanges under strict epidemic prevention measures.”

Among the countries in question are Australia, South Korea, Nigeria, Greece, India, Italy, Pakistan, Israel, Norway and Indonesia, according to the Global Times. “Those coming to China for work, their family members and foreign family members of Chinese citizens or permanent residents” are able to benefit from the service, with no mention of tourists just yet.

Hongkongers who have received their Sinovac shots are also allowed in, with Reuters reporting that “China’s foreign ministry office in Hong Kong said that it will simplify mainland China visa applications for foreigners in the city […] and their family members inoculated with Chinese-produced vaccines.”

It is a similar story in Manila, where the Chinese embassy put out a statement saying: “To resume orderly cross-border travel, starting from 15 March 2021, China will make facilitation arrangements for visa applicants who have been fully vaccinated by Chinese Covid-19 vaccines with vaccination certificates.” The news comes just two weeks after the Philippines started its inoculation drive, with 600,000 doses of … you guessed it … the China-made Sinovac.

A snag to the strategy is that vaccines produced in China have not been approved by all the countries whose embassies are on the list. Australia, we are looking at you.

Speaking to the Global Times, a hopeful Sydney-based Australian citizen who had received the AstraZeneca vaccine said: “China is actively pushing the mutual recognition of vaccines to resume personnel exchanges, and I believe foreign vaccines will finally be recognised.”

Until that is the case – or until Australia approves a China-made vaccine for use – that citizen will not be stepping on Chinese soil. And we’re sure there’s nothing political about that.

By  South China Morning Post

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