Discrimination passport, anyone?

First, a bit of background

In April, Emmanuel Macron said that vaccine passports wouldn’t be used to discriminate against people.

Last Monday, he announced that as of today, 21 July, anyone in France over the age of 12 would have to present a vaccine passport to enter a cinema, theatre, museum, theme park or cultural centre. You’ll also need one from the start of August to enter a restaurant, sit on a café terrace, get on a train, plane or coach, or go into a shopping centre.

And from the autumn onwards, you’ll have to pay for PCR tests in France unless they’ve been prescribed by a doctor.

Any staff working in a medical or care context, including support staff and volunteers, must be vaccinated by mid-September, or be summarily dismissed.

OK, so what do vaccine passports actually achieve?

Let’s skip over the huge “fuck you” this sends to anyone who hasn’t yet been able to get vaccinated (I won’t qualify for a vaccine passport until mid-August, for instance; a friend who’s chosen to wait for the Moderna vaccine hasn’t been able to get even one jab done yet, and they’ve only been vaccinating young people since 15 June, so only a tiny number of them can possibly have had both jabs by the start of August), the people who are allergic to the vaccines, the people who have health conditions that preclude them from being vaccinated, anyone who doesn’t have ID, or any other reason that’s thus far prevented 50+% of the French population from getting such a pass sanitaire, such as being in the first trimester of a pregnancy.

Let’s ignore the fact that, if you ordered a package before 12 July and it’s being delivered to a pickup point in a café, as they often are in France, tough shit, you can’t collect it.

Let’s even ignore the fact that, as of the autumn, if you’re poor and unvaccinated you won’t be able to afford the entrance fee (PCR test) to get into the shopping centre that potentially contains your nearest supermarket. I guess if you starve that’s OK, because the cause of death won’t be COVID?

No, instead let’s look at the effect of vaccine passports.

As we all know, being vaccinated doesn’t mean you don’t catch the virus, it just means you’re much less likely to end up in hospital. And obviously if you catch the virus, you can still pass it on to someone else. That’s why, even when you’re vaccinated, you still have to wear a mask and maintain social distancing.

Now imagine a French café terrace at the moment.

  • You wear a mask, you’re socially distanced.
  • If you’ve got the virus and you infect someone else with it, it’ll be either someone who’s been vaccinated, or someone who hasn’t.
  • The former will have reduced effects from the virus.

Well that seems clear, but obviously you’re still potentially infecting other people, so presumably the vaccine passport will help with that?

Right. Let’s imagine a French café terrace as of mid-August.

  • You show your passport or PCR test result at the door and you’re allowed in.
  • You wear a mask, you’re socially distanced.
  • If you’ve got the virus and you infect someone else with it, it’ll be either someone who’s been vaccinated, or someone who hasn’t.
  • The former will have reduced effects from the virus.

In other words, the only thing that will change is that you have to show a vaccine passport – which many people are still unable to get, even if they want to – to enter that café space. Needless to say, the restaurateurs who’ll have to check compliance are a tad unhappy.

TousAntiCovid logo, altered to say "Tous Anti Democracie", with the tagline "Avec TousAntiCovid, participez à la lutte contre les personnes différents de nous"

OK, but what do vaccine passports actually achieve?

So why are the French government bringing this in? Well, pretty obviously to force people to get vaccinated, in the short term. Although it’s STILL almost impossible to get a vaccination at the weekend, because, you know, it’s not that serious.

But there’s a broader question – why is anyone instituting such a thing? The EU states that the passports won’t be used to prevent people from travelling within the EU. But presumably at some point, just like France, every individual country will bring in more or less draconian policies to prevent the unvaccinated – or simply those who don’t have a smartphone – from doing things such as exercising their right to freedom of movement.

Because as a measure to prevent spread of the virus, it simply doesn’t make sense. Or at least it doesn’t given how it’s currently being used.

For example, despite the poor nurses and cleaners in old people’s homes being sacked in September if they aren’t vaccinated, the police – who, surely, come into close contact with just as many vulnerable people, not all of whom are guilty – don’t have to be. Nor do prison guards.

And you know how I mentioned above that you have to have a vaccine passport to travel by train? Well obviously if you get on the train in Paris, you’ll have to go through some form of barrier to enter the station, or at least to get on the platform (although you’ll be able to travel on the Paris Metro without a vaccine passport, because… er…). But out here in the sticks? You can get on a local train and not even have your ticket checked, more often than not. And what if you do get on a train heading for Paris without a vaccine passport? You’re travelling from, say, Caen to Paris, but you get on at the small station of Bayeux, the stop before Caen. The guard doesn’t have time to check your ticket, passport or anything else before you arrive at Caen. And the next stop is… Gare d’Austerlitz. When the guard finds that you don’t have your vaccine passport, what are they supposed to do? Stop the train and throw you off into Normandy countryside? Lock you into a separate compartment to prevent you infecting everyone? And what about the people you’ve breathed on before they detected your crime?

So, once again, what do vaccine passports actually achieve?

Well, call me cynical, but I’m thinking along the lines of Sam Grant, Liberty’s Head of Policy and Campaigns, who said in January:

As there is no clear evidence vaccines prevent the spread of the virus, this move feels like an opportunistic detour rather than a serious route out of the pandemic

If you think this is an over-reaction, think back to the security checks at airports. A temporary measure in response to a specific crisis. Solely intended to keep us all…safe.

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