I wouldn’t blame you for feeling heartily sick at having to keep on hearing about vaccine passports. Unfortunately, you will be hearing ever more. Covid has created a unique set of circumstances. Making sense of these passports, gaining agreement on them has been governed by circumstances with which policy-makers struggle, for the very reason that they are unique.
That there is discord within the EU regarding passports is perfectly understandable. Until recently, the UK shared concerns of some EU governments. While they provide an additional tool in terms of health security and safe travel (as safe as it can be), they come with an ethical dimension. Boris Johnson, for all that he may have made mistakes, is not someone guided by instincts which limit freedoms. He has nevertheless been persuaded of the potential value of vaccine passports for travel, but remains highly sceptical about their use for other purposes.
Governments in the EU, notably France and Germany, have serious doubts. Because of these differing views, it is, therefore, debatable to believe that they must be adopted and must guide travel decisions. It is also simplistic to argue that they offer a panacea because of the unknowns that surround the vaccines.
The passports, I prefer certificate because this doesn’t carry the same connotation of permission to travel, need to be one tool in the kitbag. They will have to be, in any event. No government would possibly contemplate a situation in which children are barred from travel. There is no vaccination of children, there have been no trials of vaccination of children (or none that one is aware of in Europe at any rate).
If there is to be vaccination, it is some way down the line yet. The priority is the adult population. If this population is immunised, the risks posed by transmission by children (or anyone else) are greatly reduced.
Covid has become and is a matter of managing risk. This can be measured by all the indicators available. It is worth noting that this week the Cercle d’Economia in Mallorca added the level of immunisation to its series of traffic lights for risk.
This level is very much in the red zone and it will remain red for some considerable time. The vaccination (immunisation) ratio will become increasingly important, as it provides a further clear indication of risk. If the vaccine passport is considered to be of key significance in facilitating safe travel, then the vaccination ratio is of even greater significance, as arguably it would dispense with the need for a passport.
Johan Lundgren, the CEO of easyJet, was interviewed on BBC Five Live Breakfast earlier this week. He wasn’t against the passport concept but he stressed, and this was in connection with so-called safe travel corridors, the importance of data which facilitate these corridors.
There has been mention here in Mallorca that the safe corridors of last summer failed. That’s not the case. The opening-up and the rapid rise in infections were what killed off these corridors. The principle of safe travel risk in a Covid environment hasn’t changed since last summer. It is based on the data, so if the vaccination ratio is now factored in to the set of indicators, this becomes of great significance.
Just as the cumulative incidence shows level of infection and acts as one of the principal means of guiding travel decisions (if not the principal one), then the vaccination ratio should be considered in the same way. There therefore should be common agreement as to what constitutes a safe ratio of vaccination in a given population, with 70% immunisation the frequently cited goal.
Safe corridors were predicated on there being acceptable levels of risk (cumulative incidence) in both origin and destination. If one were to now add vaccination ratio to the mix, I would suggest that this is a reason why there is such enthusiasm - in the short-term at least - for vaccine passports. And that is because of the huge variation between the vaccination ratios in different countries at present.
The promises of the Balearic and Spanish governments are of 70% immunisation at some point. Right now and given the rate of vaccination, the passports are deemed to be of importance. But once there are accepted ratios of vaccination, why should passports be essential? Travellers may opt to have them, but in terms of risk management based on data in origin and destination, there is less justification if the risks are considered to be acceptable. At the same time, the ethical objections would be dealt with, as decisions would be based on general data and not on an individual’s beliefs.
Such a situation would of course depend on the rapidity of vaccination rollout. Even if this does pick up here in Mallorca (and it will), the need for tests will surely not go away, certainly not for this year. Vaccination is just a further aspect of the unique circumstances. Policy-makers will remain cautious in evaluating the capability of vaccination to minimise risk.
Meantime, governments are moving ahead with their passport plans. Greece was the first European government to advance the cause of passports and made it perfectly clear that it wasn’t talking about some mandatory system.
It has been somewhat strange to come across comments about Mallorca and Spain potentially shooting themselves in the foot in wanting a passport, as holidaymakers will opt for Greece instead, when it was the Greeks who initially floated the idea and are moving ahead with it.
The additional talk has been of tour operators and holidaymakers heading for Greece anyway and at the expense of Mallorca. Why might this be? Views that have been expressed here are that Greece is perceived to have done a better job at managing the pandemic and that all the publicity given in Mallorca to Covid-free environments backfired last summer.
I’m not convinced by either of these. One thing to be said about tour operators and others releasing bookings’ or destination interest information is that it always happens, so I don’t think one can necessarily read too much into it.
When circumstances decree, which they now do since the UK government’s announcement of its roadmap, the holiday industry moves at rapid pace, as will be the case with bookings for Mallorca, and not just Mallorca. In Benidorm, the Hosbec hoteliers association, has spoken this week of record bookings for the summer.