Yesterday Boris Johnson was able to be the bearer of good news. The Prime minister announced last night that the government has met its target of vaccinating 15 million people against COVID, immunising all over 70s and everyone in the top four priority groups.
Undoubtedly, this is fantastic news. As immunity increases among the vulnerable, severe cases of COVID, deaths, and hospitalisations will begin to fall. With pressure on the NHS set to ease, many of us are once again casting our mind forward to that unspecified date when we might be set free.
But what will the government’s exit strategy look like? And how will they stop the inevitable flock, in the excitement of their release, from reversing the hard-earned progress of the past months, for instance, through transmission of a new strain?
Conflicting reports from the government have raised the possibility of the use of ‘vaccine passports’ as a way to bring crowds safely to crowded venues like theatres or bars. Whilst some have denied that vaccine passports would be introduced domestically, the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, hinted that they could be introduced. Some, like Boris Johnson, object to the principle of compulsory vaccine passports on political grounds, but others suggest that the prime minister would not refuse hospitality venues the option to state proof of vaccination against COVID as a prerequisite to entry, meaning vaccine passports would not be compulsory, but could be the norm.
Vaccine passports “through the back door” for domestic venues could be the way forward in the government’s “cautious but irreversible” exit strategy from this third lockdown. Though concerns have already been raised about the ease with which such ‘passports’ might be imitated and sold, jeopardising the effectiveness of other controls on the virus.
The answer to this? It has been suggested that proof of a negative lateral flow COVID test might also be needed to gain entry to venues like clubs or bars. Though there is very little clarity surrounding these proto-visions of the new normal, the practicalities surrounding this suggestion sound dubious.
I struggle not to giggle at the thought of huddles of students gagging as they go through the uncomfortable ritual of testing themselves outside a night club, or the cordoned off corner of a fancy restaurant turned into a clinical waiting room where Karen and her friends sit expectantly for their results. In my mind they sit in silence, in the sound knowledge that this first prosecco will be irreversible, but far from cautious. At least I hope so. Whatever the new normal looks like, bring it on. I’ve forgotten what the old one was like anyway.