A passenger walks past a testing centre

A passenger walks past a testing centre.

03-12-2020PHIL NOBLE

In March, the government in Hong Kong required the use of an electronic wristband in enforcing quarantine for arriving passengers. As one passenger put it: “I felt a bit weird about the bracelet-checking thing because of privacy reasons, but I understand why they have it.” In April, Bulgaria was one of a handful of countries to introduce wristbands as a means of tracking people. South Korea had wristbands. India planned to manufacture them. Belgium and Liechtenstein were trialling them.

Privacy concerns there rightly were. It was like electronic tagging. There was a sense of semi-criminalisation. Fears of being controlled by the state were understandable. But as that traveller said, it was understandable, and - as technologies got rolled out - it was no different to having a smartphone app. In fact, a wristband had its advantages for people who didn’t have smartphones.

Contact-tracing technologies have become a fact of life. The virus has affected the relationship, the social pact between citizen and state, but with good reason. States such as Spain and the UK have no interest in “control”; in the UK, measures of all kinds run counter to Boris Johnson’s instincts. But public health has demanded some control, and for the most part this is accepted; the conspiracy theorists always being excepted.

We now have the notion of the vaccine wristband. The vaccine inevitably creates its own control narrative, but just how seriously the idea of a wristband can be is a matter of debate. It could be a case of flying a kite, but there is some sense to it, even if the logistics - and this applies to mass vaccination programmes as well - have not been thought out. In terms of simple identification, a wristband would achieve much, but at the same time the absence of a wristband would have its drawbacks. In addition to not being a “passport” to events, restaurants, even flights, the lack of a wristband could produce division. What would happen if wristband-wearers encounter non-wristband-wearers? Do they wave a cross and some garlic in their general direction?

In Spain, in theory, there will be sufficient numbers of doses to immunise the entire population, but the population groups envisaged under the vaccination strategy appear to exclude a good part of the population. Nevertheless, and despite not having specified all conceivable population groups in the strategy, Spain’s health minister - Salvador Illa - has said that there will be vaccines “for all the people in Spain”; those who choose to have it, that is, as the government has accepted that it cannot coerce everyone to.
A vaccine control identifier could, however, be perceived as a form of coercion, were it to mean that people would be excluded from activities if they don’t have one. The wristband, as I say, is just a notion at present, but were it to more of a goer, encouragement to have a wristband, and therefore the vaccine, might come from the fashion industry. As with masks, maybe there would be scope for designer wristbands.

There would of course be a slight problem with this in that a vaccine wristband wouldn’t be like an ordinary wristband because of the technology it contains. Still, with some creativity there must surely be the wherewithal to design different wristbands. After all, who wants to look the same as everyone else? And masks are definite proof of this.

In Mallorca, there is an element of stigma associated with wristbands, and that is because of all-inclusives, while the experience with these wristbands suggests that there is some risk. One assumes, however, that the technology would prevent the practice of selling a wristband to a non-all-inclusive-hotel guest and then asking for a new one from reception because the original has been “lost”.

This stigma aside, solidarity hints at a willingness to be seen with a vaccine wristband. All manner of causes have inspired wristbands, while they have also proved to be handy when it comes to fiestas. Which brings us to Soller’s Firó, the Moors and Christians clash in early May.

Because of the crush in the square for the climax of the battle, Soller town hall introduced wristbands three years ago. In order to get into the square, you needed to be wearing a wristband. This was a way of controlling capacity, something with which, and for a different reason, we have become very familiar over recent months. The town hall has already taken the decision to call next year’s event off. It believes that restrictions on crowds will still apply by May, even with a vaccine.

The town hall may be right, but were it to follow its previous policy of crowd control by wristband, a different type of wristband might enable some form of Moors and Christians battle. There again, possibly not, as the government’s vaccination strategy will, by early May, cover limited population groups, e.g. health workers and residents of care homes. But for the future, why not?


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