Sunday 28 March 2021

Ihre Papiere, Bitter!

Over the past few days, there has been a lot of focus in the media on vaccine passports. These are not a single concept, and obviously if another country decides to require vaccine passports for any visiting tourists there’s not a lot we can do about it. However, last week, Boris Johnson stated that he would not be averse to the idea of pubs requiring them to gain entry.

Not surprisingly, this idea went down like a cup of cold sick with both licensees and pubgoers. I ran a poll on Twitter to gauge reaction, which was widely retweeted. This showed a strong majority against, but a disappointingly large minority who didn’t see a problem.

We have had vaccinations of various kinds in this country for over a century, but they have never been compulsory, and nor have we ever sought to restrict the freedoms of those who have not been vaccinated, so this would be completely unprecedented. Indeed, Johnson’s former ministerial colleague David Davis has suggested it might well be illegal, and would be likely to lead to court cases. On the face of it, he certainly seems to be correct, both in terms of medical discrimination and indirect discrimination against less vaccinated groups. It would probably need to be implemented either under the emergency Covid legislation or by an amendment of the Equality Act to create a specific exemption.

People would be up in arms if it was proposed that pubs should be able to refuse admission to those who could not prove they were HIV negative. Of course some smartarse will pipe up that the two are completely different, and indeed they are. But if you accept the concept of passports for Covid vaccinations, you have accepted the principle of discrimination on grounds of medical status, you are just arguing about where the line should be drawn.

There also seems to have been a considerable amount of moving the goalposts. Back last Autumn, vaccine supremo Kate Bingham stated that the objective would only be to vaccinate the over-60s and the clinically vulnerable, not the entire population. In January, newspapers were suggesting that 15 million jabs would do the trick, whereas we have already done twice that. As a general rule, vaccines don’t require anything like universal take-up to be effective across the whole population and achieve “herd immunity”. And the evidence so far is that under 10% of people are declining vaccination.

Creating such a vaccine passport would involve considerable practical difficulties. It would have to be made very difficult to forge. How would people who do not own smartphones be catered for? It seems that those without smartphones are increasingly being relegated to the status of second-class citizens in contemporary society. Some method would have to be found of registering people who have legitimate medical exemptions from vaccination.

Would it also have to apply to pub staff, or to people coming in to make deliveries or service equipment? How about the customer from the beer garden who just wants to come it to use the toilet? How would it apply to food courts in shopping centres and motorway service areas served by numerous outlets? A means would have to be found to incorporate tourists and other short-term visitors within the scheme. And there are plenty of people living in this country who for various reasons are off the radar of the NHS, and would be even more excluded from mainstream society.

The comparison has been made with track and trace, which pubs operated last summer, but in reality the two things are very different. Track and trace only applied to one person in each party, not everyone, and it was completed once people had entered pubs. There was no requirement to prove identity and, in reality, it was easy to spoof if you were so inclined. Participation was effectively voluntary.

Having to check every single customer’s details would place an onerous administrative burden on pubs. How would a small bar with one member of staff cope? And remember it wouldn’t just apply to pubs, but to restaurants, cafés, coffee shops and even takeaways with a few inside seats and tables. And should pubs really be expected to act as the government’s enforcement agents?

After the initial suggestion, the government have to some extent rowed back on the idea, saying it would be entirely voluntary and would only come into effect once all adults had been offered a vaccine. Wetherspoon’s and Shepherd Neame have, to their credit, rejected the idea. However, it would be conceivable that pubs would be offered the carrot of relaxed social distancing rules if they implemented it.

If it did end up being adopted by some pub operators, I suspect it would tend to be just the high-end gastropubs and a few up-their-own-arse craft bars. It’s very hard to see backstreet boozers in industrial towns wanting to take it up. And it could end up with the two-tier pub trade that might have come about if the proposal to exempt wet-only pubs from the smoking ban had come to reality, with some being pious, dull and joyless, and others lively, fun and rumbustious.

I suspect in reality this is something that won’t happen, as even if ministers wanted to press ahead with it, it would be derailed by the practical difficulties. And surely, assuming that the vaccines are effective, by the Autumn the number of Covid deaths and hospitalisations should in any case be minuscule and it would seem unnecessary and disproportionate.

But the idea that you should require a government-issued pass to take part in normal everyday activities is profoundly totalitarian. And where is the guarantee that it would not be extended to other medical statuses, or even become a generalised Chinese-style social credit pass? It has been very depressing to see how, during the Covid crisis, so many people seem to have accepted or even positively welcomed a restriction of their freedoms that in some respects has gone beyond even that which applied during World War II. It becomes easier to understand how the Nazis were able to achieve such a level of public acquiescence in their totalitarian programme.


  1. You've got that Venn diagram wrong, Mudgie. There should be no overlap.

  2. I get confused that people get so hung up on personal freedom when it comes to restrictions related to corona virus but accept a whole raft of other restrictions without comment.
    You can't drive a car with out a whole raft of papieres. You cant travel by aeroplane without papieres. You can't open a bank account without papieres. An eighteen year old can't buy a can of lager without papieres. I can't buy in several local shops and bars without papieres. I can't go to the theatre or cinema or a football match without papieres. I can't travel by bus or train without papieres
    So another papiere to go to a pub isn't really much concern to me.

    1. What official papers do you need to show to use a local shop or bar, or to visit the cinema or get on a bus?

    2. Local shop and bars demands a debit card (which needed papieres to obtain)
      To visit a cinema I need a papiere ticket
      To get on a bus I need my bus pass (which needed papieres to obtain)

      The point I am making is that it is difficult to go about normal, even without the pandemic, life without a wallet full of cards. Something that most people don't regard as impinging on their freedom. But one more card, one intended to improve public health, raises howls of rage

      I would make the card available and allow the proprietor of the business to decide whether or not he needs to see it. It would then be interesting to see which businesses the customer prefers. Personally, other things equal, I would go to the one who wants the card

    3. That's a ludicrous comparison. Debit cards are not issued by the government. And, last time I looked, if you don't have one you can also use cash for all these things.

    4. There are plenty of bars and shops which no longer accept cash.
      Bus passes are issued by government. But surely something issued by government, who are accountable to the electorate, is less onerous than something issued by banks, who are accountable only to their shareholders.

      This is a rather futile argument since vaccine passports will be issued for the purpose of foreign travel and any publican is free to restrict his clientele to vacinees without need for further legislation

    5. Indeed it is a futile argument, and I would remind you of the line in the comment policy that "The comments are also not the place for a protracted argument." I have been bvery charitable in letting you take it so far.

      As stated in the post, I believe that, at present, if a publican tried to bar people without proof of vaccination, he would fall foul of the 2010 Equality Act.

    6. I appreciate your tolerance in allowing me to post so I do not expect this to be published but I do think that you are wrong in your understanding of the Equalities Act which is something I have a lot of experience with in my charity work.

      The "protected characteristics" under the act are
      gender reassignment;
      marriage and civil partnership;
      pregnancy and maternity;
      religion or belief;
      sexual orientation.

      None of those appear to be relevant.

    7. IANAL - maybe you should ask David Davis. But there's plenty of legal precedent for interpreting medical discrimination as disability discrimination, such as mask exemptions. And bear in mind that the Covid vaccines are currently classified as experimental, so they fall within the scope of the Nuremberg Codes which explicitly prohibit forced or coerced medication. Being on the same side of the argument as Mengele really isn't a good look.

  3. If implemented, pubs would presumably have to check if you'd had your booster jabs (where applicable) too. There would have to be a cutoff date by which you had to get your booster or face exclusion from the pub. Its totally unworkable as well as being downright discriminatory and wrong. It is acceptable if required for overseas travel, but any attempt to introduce vaccine passports for activities in the uk must be resisted.

  4. I agree that a demand for proof of vaccination is an attack on personal freedom and generally,I would not support such a thing. However,an excessively frightened population needs to be encouraged to re-participate in life and this can be helped by increasing the perception that premises are safe and increasing the uptake of vaccination particularly in younger people by creating an incentive to be vaccinated. Any scheme should be time limited to avoid the creation of a two tier society and for public health reasons drop in centres are needed to vaccinate those who are off the radar. There is no reason why vaccinated persons cannot be issued with a micro chipped card which has a photograph but no name and why the scheme cannot be extended to gyms coffee shops and similar venues.

    1. Haha, a temporary programme. Just like income tax? They wouldn't go to all the cost and effort of setting it up if it was only going to last a few months.

      And the people who are frightened to go back to the pub are probably much the same as those who said they'd go a lot more after the smoking ban.

    2. But the draconian temporary regulations introduced during WWII were rapidly cancelled in 1945
      And are you seriously suggesting that income tax should be abolished?

    3. Identity cards were not abolished until 1952, and rationing not until 1953. But do go on...

    4. There is no reason why the chip inside the ID card cannot be time limited. Rationing continued until the early 1950's because of economic and political decisions taken at that time and identity cards remained in part because a large number of foreign prisoners of war remained in the country. By the way,why is your click on a picture so difficult to operate?

    5. Sorry about the captcha, but that's down to Blogger, not me. I've tried turning it off in the past, but it inevitably leads to an avalanche of spam. I'll turn it off again, but I guarantee it will be back on within a week.

    6. but your plan to appease a frightened population is to tell them that its only safe for them to go engage in their normal pre covid lives, if they then are forced by law to carry a micro chipped identity card around with them. You are actively saying in the case of pubs, because these rules arent being suggested for shops, arent being suggested for parks, arent being suggested for quite alot of activites, that they must be such a massive vector for covid transmission it can only be considered safe for people to use them if everybody within the pub, can prove at all times they have already been vaccinated, and if they cant well theyll just have to go drink some tinnies in a park and spread their covid germs there right, but dont worry as long as youve got a micro chipped card youll be totally safe right.

      do you genuinely think people who are that fearful of using a pub without that kind of safety net,are going to react to a vaccine passport however its implemented as a well thats all cleared the fear up for me,quick lets go to the pub.

      fortunately having observed peoples behaviour in supermarkets and in situations where they have had to have close contact with others this past year, I dont think people are remotely that fearful, so its a complete sop to claim this will in anyway benefit anyone frankly.

      Remember at least by the end of this year,if not sooner, the whole population of the UK will have been offered the vaccine,with something like a 90-95% take up,which is basically herd immunity levels, so what exactly will implementing this ludicrous suggestion prove anyway ?

    7. The way no encourage the fearful to return to normal life is to show them that everyone else is not frightened. There was a point last summer when that seemed to be happening; then the 'must wear a mask' came in which just ramped up the fear

    8. Yes, there was a brief three-week window between the pubs reopening and the ludicrous mask law being imposed in shops when it was genuinely possible to believe things might slowly get better and the remaining restrictions wither on the vine.

      Mind you, there wasn't much fear of going out shown during the following month when "Eat Out To Help Out" was in operation.

    9. In Scotland the stupid mask thing came in just a few days before the pubs opened inside. However where I live, most pubs didn't insist on people wearing them and one or two still allowed service at the bar.

  5. Mudge, your last two sentences, of the main article, sum up the whole sorry situation.

    Adolf Hitler was reputed to have said, "What luck for the rulers, that men do not think." We never seem to learn the lessons that history teaches us.

  6. It is a small carrot and a very big stick.

    What our betters views in CAMRA and SIBA about this?

    Like the smoking ban, will they go along with it like the useless bloated seals they are, slapping their flippers together because the visual of pub doors being open is more important than what is going on inside them.

    1. Brilliant comparison. For all its self-congratulation, CAMRA will never actually campaign on anything truly controversial, or that ruffles feathers.

      And its attempt to create a spin-off body (Drinkers' Voice) to combat the anti-drink lobby rapidly ran into the sand. They know at heart that the public health agenda poses an existential threat to all they hold dear, but they continue feeding the crocodile.

    2. but they come it at from a different angle, neither are predominantly a pro civil liberties organisation or cause, or into the logistics of how stuff like this will be enforced and the burden it places on pub staff, their focus will be to get as many pubs open as quickly as possible so as to ensure breweries have a trade to sell into again.

      If the way to achieve that aim is for them to, one would hope, reluctantly accept it, because the government decides its the only way to reopen pubs, then yeah I doubt off their own bat theyll actively campaign against it, it would only be if the members overwhelmingly made it an issue, which I cant see happening either.

    3. Whatever the views of CAMRA and SIBA, I can tell you that the official views of the Campaign For Pubs on the subject include 'Absurd' and and 'it's just another level of ridiculousness'.

    4. "the visual of pub doors being open is more important than what is going on inside them."

      Yes, that's the line of the year. Equally applies to the efforts to keep pubs open by people happier drinking cans in their underpants than actually visiting Proper Pubs.

    5. I think realistically that CAMRA is never going to take a firm stand on issues of anti-drink policy. It would be internally divisive and perhaps forfeit its respectable image. It's not the battle it was originally created to fight. So we have to accept this as a fact of life while recognising that in some respects it is a chocolate teapot.

    6. A prediction; rather morbidly optimistically, that the first beer festival is going to be in the never used Nightingale that is the G-Mex, as Manchester CAMRA host the 2022 beer festival, probably pushed back away from January. By then the Dugongs and Manatees are going to have to take a stance, lest if fall to the Dromodaries and Bactrians of Wigan CAMRA for their March shindig.

  7. I've had a vaccination. It should stop me dying but not from catching it. So I don't care about myself. Vaccine passports are daft for pubs, OK for airlines. I gave up flying years ago as I went short haul every week 3 or 4 times and long haul about 3 or 4 times every month and that was for 25 years. I was sick of flying and disruption and still am. I just fancy a quiet few pints with my brother and friends in a PUB!

  8. Sound as usual. Get commenting on the speakeasys that are popping up. Forget the ones that we trusted only to be ripped by them. We are like the tide.

  9. Dear Curmudgeon

    Whatever is left of covid has now become just another seasonal virus. Note in the following two graphs that 2021 deaths and excess mortality are more or less back to normal for this time of year. The influence of vaccination on deaths is probably near zero.

    ONS data for England and Wales all-cause mortality for 2015, 2018, 2020, 2021 (to Friday, 12 March, week 10)

    Excess deaths compared with the average of the previous 5 years for the same periods:

    However there is a risk with the vaccination programme, which is outlined by Mr Legiron on his site:

    The real time social experiment has been a resounding success for the state: we are truly sheeple.

    Let us hope the real-time medical experiment does not go seriously wrong.


  10. All the talk is of pubs but presumably this would have to apply to any location where large groups of people congregate indoors. So cinemas, theatres and concert venues as well. But people also congregate in shops, airports, railway stations, on trains, on buses, and in places of worship. Why are those not being mentioned?

    1. I mentioned restaurants, cafés and coffee shops in the post. Presumably it would apply to anywhere that was previously expected to operate track and trace, i.e. where people were in prolonged proximity to each other.

  11. Our pubs in Virginia have been open since last June with physical distancing restrictions and the attendant capacity drops, as well as sanitation stations, required mask wearing when not at a table, and various other workarounds to make going for a drink not entirely impossible (no bullshit nonsense about "substantial meals" either). I don't go as much as I used to, and I limit my choice of drinking den to a couple of places whose operations during the pandemic I have come to trust, and if I start to feel uncomfortable in a place, I drink up and leave. Grown adults can actually be trusted to do the right thing in most cases, despite the caterwauling of the gutter press in the UK. Being required to have proof of vaccination to get a beer is ridiculous, will you also need proof of vaccination to do your weekly shop? I do tend to think proof of vaccination has its place in certain circumstances, international travel for example, where this is already a thing for visiting certain countries, but going for a drink isn't one of them.

  12. Excellent and thought provoking article as ever. Just one small point. Smallpox vaccination introduced in 1853 in the UK was compulsory. Rightly so as it has completely eradicated that awful disease.

  13. List of lies.
    This is mostly a community-spread disease in places like stores, bars, restaurants, churches, concerts and the local city street. FALSE; the CDC itself documented that more than half of all transmission was happening in homes and the next largest, and only other statistically material spread was occurring in industrial (e.g. meat packing) plants and health care settings. Nashville suppressed the fact that they could only trace about one percent of infections to social businesses such as bars and restaurants and now the CDC itself has stated that less than 1% of spread is traceable to such public venues as restaurants and bars. In other words we knew by late spring of 2020 the restrictions, including business closures, school shutdowns and masks couldn't work as that's not where the virus was spreading; we couldn't shut down the industrial plants without starving the population and destroying both energy production and sanitary services leading to an immediate societal and economic collapse. Nor could we invade every house and forcibly segment positive-tested people either; we had neither the resources nor would they get away with it without the cops and government goons being turned into swiss cheese. And when it comes to health care we could have segregated Covid-19 facilities and the people working in care homes but intentionally did not.


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