The reopening of much of society in recent months has felt timely and much needed. After months of gloom, locked at home throughout the winter, the chance to be outside, meeting friends for a drink or doing some shopping has been a lifeline. There is a real sense of impatience to get on with the final stage of reopening, originally scheduled for the 21 June, and for that to be a true ‘line in the sand’ moment.
This sense of fatigue and determination to end restrictions is shared by our politicians. Boris Johnson yesterday announced a one-month delay in the next phase of reopening, but has described it as being “irreversible” when it does occur. Consensus has emerged across parties that the current lockdown must be the last. These definitive promises will be music to the public’s ears, but there is a significant danger of the politics lagging behind reality.
There are three key facts that need to be weighed against this ambition. First, the protection which vaccines provide against infection is not total. The number of people dying from Covid remains low in the UK, but, according to PHE England analysis, of the 42 deaths among those with the Delta variant, 12 people had received both vaccine doses and 7 had received one dose. The majority of Covid deaths remain among those in at risk categories and the over 65s. Second, variants are in circulation that are of concern. The Delta variant makes up 90 per cent of cases in England and is 66 per cent more transmissible. Third, we know that until the whole world is fully vaccinated, nowhere in the world is safe from even more dangerous mutations occurring. It is impossible therefore to rule out further waves of the virus, potentially involving more concerning strains.
In this context how can politicians keep their promise that the UK will face no further blanket lockdowns? How do they square the circle? This can be done by ensuring that only those infected with the virus are required to stay at home, with those free from the virus free to move around as normal. However, this requires some mechanism by which people can show they are vaccinated or have had a recent negative rapid antigen test - a Covid Pass.
A digital Covid Pass would prove a person’s up-to-date vaccination status and/or a recent test result. It would provide a simple red or green status, allowing those free from the virus to move around freely, while those with the virus would be required to stay at home. We have written how this can be done safely and securely. Such a system would be turned off during periods of low virus prevalence and turned back on during spikes of cases. In the future, when the virus is fully and sustainably under control, it would be turned off.
Michael Gove spoke clearly and persuasively this morning on the need for society to learn to live alongside Covid for the time being. We wrote a report with exactly this title a year ago.
To live alongside the virus a mechanism is needed which enables us to require only those infected to stay at home. This requires proof of Covid status. The only way this is possible is through a Covid Pass.
There is no other viable way for Boris Johnson to keep his promise that this is indeed the final lockdown.