Today’s big question

Are Covid vaccine passports legal?

Certificates of vaccination could be discriminatory, says equalities watchdog

Covid-status certificates being considered by ministers to help open up society are in danger of creating a “two-tier society” and could amount to “unlawful indirect discrimination”, the equalities watchdog has warned.

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said so-called “vaccine passports” could help ease restrictions “in principle”, but risk further excluding groups with low vaccine take-up, such as those from ethnic minority or lower socio-economic backgrounds, from accessing essential services and employment, reports The Guardian

The commission also raised concerns over vaccinations becoming a condition of employment, warning employers should not be allowed to hire workers on a “no jab, no job” basis until all young people had been offered a vaccine, says the paper. 

“There is a risk of unlawful discrimination if decisions taken in this process disadvantage people with protected characteristics who have not received, or are not able to receive, the vaccine, unless they can be shown to be justified,” said the EHRC. 

It continued: “Any mandatory requirement for vaccination or the implementation of Covid-status certification may amount to indirect discrimination, unless the requirement can be objectively justified.”

The warning comes as ministers consider whether to introduce vaccine passports as a “temporary measure” in order to allow large events to take place, as well as international travel, reports the BBC. The UK government says it is working with counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to agree a “consistent approach”. 

The proposals are being considered by the government “despite significant opposition from Tory MPs as well as Labour and the Lib Dems”, writes The Independent. “Boris Johnson himself has said that the risk of discrimination is one of the sticking points in developing a scheme for protecting public spaces,” says the paper. 

Senior Conservative figures, such as 1922 committee chair Graham Brady, have voiced opposition to the passports, with Brady arguing certificates should not be used to “deny individuals access to general services, businesses or jobs”.

But public support for the scheme appears to be high, with 62% of the public believing the potential benefits to the economy outweigh any ethical or legal issues, according to an Ipsos MORI poll released last month. Support for their use was particularly strong for circumstances such as travelling abroad (78%) or working in NHS front-line jobs (79%). 

An update published by the government this month suggests Covid-status certification would be considered for June onwards and be “a feature of our lives until the threat from the pandemic recedes”.

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