MP: Why I don't think Covid passports are justified
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
This week, we saw plan B measures discussed in parliament. After much deliberation, I decided I could not support the government’s vaccine passport proposal.
This was not a decision I took lightly. I know there will be people who disagree with my decision here. I respect this, I am acutely aware of the impact of each one of these restrictions. It’s something I have given a lot of thought to.
I’m sure everyone remembers, not particularly fondly, the depressing situation we were in last Christmas. I know I do – I was in isolation with Covid on Christmas day, without my family, so it’s one I will remember for all the wrong reasons.
The days being colder and darker already take an effect on our mental health, and we rely more on socialising indoors with others rather than being outside. I know one of our biggest fears is that we are looking at a repeat of last year.
I’ve already seen cancelled get-togethers between friends as a result of panic, and fear. So, when I was choosing which lobby to enter in the house of commons this week, it was cancelled Christmas plans, difficulties and bleakness of isolation and the mental health effects which were playing on my mind. And I wasn’t alone in my concerns.
I know a lot of members, including myself, were uncomfortable about the measures proposed by the government – proposals that make it seem as though we are heading, potentially towards something that will resemble a lockdown. I am desperately concerned about whether as a society and as an economy we would be able to handle that. I appreciate that the Prime Minister is in a difficult position, and is receiving lots of different scientific advice at the moment. However, the pandemic has left many people as shadows of their former selves, and we need to create a society in which they can live fuller lives.
I was particularly concerned about the idea of vaccine passports. While the vaccine passports give the option of a negative lateral flow test, which is a concession and a compromise, they are still a worrying measure.
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I voted against the Covid passport measure because I do not think the justification is there, and I fear that the mindset and logic that led to it could produce creep in restrictions, leading further and further towards what would resemble another lockdown.
I do not think we should have special documentation to enter venues. We have seen in Europe that vaccine passports are rarely limited to the venues they are initially brought in for. This is not something I want to see happen here.
I think it almost became a bit of a proxy vote, not just for the concern about the vaccine passports but also as a way for members to register their concern about the general direction of travel.
However, I did not vote against expanding the wearing of facemasks to most public places. Honestly, I find wearing a facemask to be quite inoffensive and a small sacrifice given the circumstances. If people are able to attend events without medical discrimination, and do the things that make them happy, then I believe masks on transport and in other public places are only a small price.
I do, however, support the need for NHS staff to be vaccinated. If I had a parent or relative in hospital, I know I personally would want them to be treated by vaccinated doctors and nurses, who would not pass on the disease so easily. Furthermore, I would expect those working in healthcare to know and understand the science behind why vaccines are so important.
It's also reassuring to see the isolation measures being changed, to allow daily testing rather than isolation for covid contacts. I think this is a good move, and one which will avoid another ‘pingdemic’.
This Christmas, the vaccine and its effectiveness means we are in a vastly different position to that of this time last year, and that does give me hope.
The first confirmed death of someone with Omicron was an individual who did not have the vaccine, which underlines the critical importance of getting jabbed. I will be getting my own booster today in Ipswich, and I urge my constituents to book theirs too.
The Omicron variant is spreading very quickly, however the important thing to recognise is not sheer number of cases, but the link between cases, hospitalisations, and fatalities. With the vaccine, we are fortunately able to disrupt this link – in Omicron cases too.
I don’t think we are in a position as a society to cope with the disastrous social and economic consequences which come with the ‘just in case’ approach to every new variant.
This virus will not be going away, and that means we will see new variants emerging over time. If every significant mutation like Omicron sends the country into a panic, we will be in a constant state of uncertainty. If we continue to behave in a ‘just in case’ way towards every new variant, sadly I do not know where this ends. The Omicron variant is spreading quickly which is not ideal.
But my question is: where does it end?
The mere thought of restrictions is enough to shake the economy and to decimate the mental health of people. Hospitality is being badly affected by uncertainty and cancelled plans, and is clearly in need of greater support.
Over the last 20 months, the pandemic has taken a sledgehammer to the mental health of many. I know from personal experience that it has not been easy. One of the worst and most difficult parts has been social isolation and feeling apart from other people.
It’s incredibly frustrating to see a small minority disregard how truly awful lockdowns have been for those in less spacious and stable environments. Particularly for younger people, lives are blighted and continue to be blighted by lockdown restrictions. So many people feel like they have put their lives on hold because of the pandemic, and the panicked approach to the new variant is contributing to that, having many friends cancel Christmas get-togethers out of fear and uncertainty.
Voting against the government isn’t something I wanted to do, or something I like doing, but it was something I felt like I had to do this week. The vote was not a decision I took lightly, but I could not vote, on this occasion, for a measure which I did not genuinely think were in my constituents’ best interests. I hope that this might even influence the Prime Minister’s next move.
I was uncomfortable with what the vaccine passport proposal signalled, and it was clear that a number of colleagues felt the same way. I have not been a frequent rebel on Covid measures, but I now believe we've come to the stage where enough is enough. We cannot go on this way for any longer.