Gary Burgess: The only way is ethics with vaccine passports

My understanding is that there are competing views in government. Credit: PA

Would you like to isolate for 10 days, 5 days or a few hours, sir?

Imagine being offered that kind of choice when arriving by sea or air into Jersey. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be plumping for the shortest option without hesitation. 

However, as soon as you add a Covid vaccine passport into the mix, things get a little more complicated. 

As I was first to report on Monday (12 April), Jersey’s government is working on a vaccine passport solution, initially for Jersey residents to use on their return to the island from any travel. The idea is that, if you have had two jabs, you’ll be considering a ‘green’ arrival meaning isolation until the result of your first Covid test, regardless of where you’ve actually just been. 

My understanding is that there are competing views in government. One side wants the passport to only entitle you to move down one light in the traffic light system, so if you’ve been in a red area you’d be treated as amber, and from amber you would be considered green. On the other side is the “keep it simple, make them green” approach.

There’s also a push, as Senator Lyndon Farnham made clear in my exclusive interview, that they want to launch fast and avoid making perfect the enemy of the good. In other words, better to have a passport system that benefits some people with a view to it eventually benefiting more, than hanging fire until it’s absolutely finessed to perfection. 

But then there’s the question of fairness, of discrimination, of the ethics of such a scheme. What of those who haven’t yet been offered two jabs? What of those who don’t want to be vaccinated? What about those who can’t be vaccinated?

My understanding is that, inside government, there’s a working belief these concerns are overblown. Claims it could lead to lawsuits for discrimination are considered exaggerated. At the moment, if you don’t have a form of ID you can’t travel. There are places in the world where you need to show proof of having had jabs for other diseases. Why should this be any different?

But, there are strongly held views on both sides. My sense is that the majority support such a plan, indeed UK polling backs that up, but vocal minorities have form in knocking well laid plans off track.