Novak Djokovic and many others are finding out that sometimes governments actually say what a great many people are thinking when it comes to protecting public health.
President Macron of France told the daily newspaper le Parisien that he wanted to “piss off” unvaccinated refusniks, remarks that led the French parliament’s National Assembly to suspend their debate on the draft bill on a ‘vaccine pass’, this week – something he is keen to see approved.
Opposition parties criticised his approach. His own party Le Republique en Marche said that brutal as the words were, the attitude of people refusing to get the jab was worse. Besides, the president was merely giving voice to what vaccinated people and the health care sectors are thinking – those abiding by public health measures should not be penalised with restrictions because of a minority rejecting vaccination.
Elsewhere, instead of a general lockdown, Austria locked down the unvaccinated. Greece imposed mandatory jabs on the elderly as of 16 January, and Italy on all over 50s from mid-June. The UK, the Czech Republic, Italy and Germany stressed the need to keep critical infrastructure working and revised isolation and quarantine rules. But the measures are controversial.
Before Christmas, far-right protesters against mandatory workplace covid passes in Romania got inside the courtyard of the parliament before being stopped.
The Netherlands started the New Year with riot police breaking up a protest against public health measures and vaccinations. Days before, a peaceful protest in Belgium against the closure of theatres and concert venues led the government to reverse its decision on closure, subject to mandatory masking, covid vaccine passes, and a negative test.
Covid passes: a panacea or open door to fraud?
The EU decided that as of 1 February, the validity of its digital covid certificate (pass) would lapse 270 days after the last dose of the primary vaccination cycle, excluding the 3rd booster. This ends the discretion that all the 27 governments had to decide on the duration of the pass’s validity from when it was introduced last June. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and member states are being guided by evidence on how long immunity lasts before setting new rules for boosters.
EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides welcomes uniform rules. The digital covid pass has been a success. Some 807 million have been issued in the EU, and they are used across five continents by some 60 countries and territories. But they are also sold on the black market to those rejecting vaccination.
In December 2020, Europol – the EU’s police agency – warned about the sale of fake negative test certificates. Arrests followed in Luton and Spain. In June 2021, Germany set up a task force to combat covid pass fraud typically conducted online via the Telegram messaging service. In the EU and the UK, a fake card costs approximately €150 / £220.
Arrests of people making fakes for friends and family continue. Accordingly, governments are looking to boost cyber security resilience and some companies argue that the answer to fraud is to use implantable chips.
If it’s good enough for 007, would you be chipped to control covid?
Over a decade ago, having a chip in your hand to swipe when paying for drinks in a bar in Barcelona caused a bit of a stir. Less controversially, Italian health care homes thought it might be useful to chip dementia patients in case they were found unconscious, had an accident or wandered off and got lost. And the idea proved popular for some Alzheimer’s sufferers in the United States. Arguably, chipping people for therapeutic medical purposes is ethical and acceptable.
But as covid rolls over the world again, eyes have turned to harnessing chips in other ways. If you could get yourself chipped, would you? Like you do a dog or a cat, or like James Bond with a chip injected under your skin.
Have a covid chip
Researchers say it would be convenient for us all to be chipped. Our basic information could be with us all the time and updated. We could use our bodies with the chip being scanned or read using a smart phone, like scan and pay in supermarkets. It could divulge our health status, our various qualifications, and maybe pay for goods and access services, like tax and car licencing offices. Some workers in a digital hub in Stockholm have already had themselves chipped with personal information.
The chip could do away with cash and bankcards. It might even allow the government automatically to deduct fines and taxes when, and at whatever rate, they decide and for us to scan ourselves to see our bank balances. Chip implants would certainly put an end to any excuse about having lost an official document, or having a flat phone battery.
Chips rely on ‘near field communication’, and hidden dangers remain including those associated with all devices that can pick up signals and interact with each other, like ‘smart’ doorkeys, TVs, fridges and doorbells. Chipping criminals to ‘keep us safe’ might replace electronic tags, for example. Track and trace could have a new lease of life anywhere smart devices picked up signals.
Some people might welcome such a step. In Sweden, using such chips as a covid pass is being considered, for personal convenience and as a way to combat black-market fake covid certificates. It is portrayed as a public benefit to contain covid.
But do the dangers outweigh the advantages in a pandemic?
Is microchipping humans ethical?
In theory, our medical records and covid status could be implanted into our wrists as a means of ensuring the NHS has immediate access to our records, or as a precondition of getting NHS care. Private health insurance companies could read them too. Covid chips would have to be readable by all manner of organisations.
People tend to welcome measures to keep vulnerable people and children safe. Questions arise when deciding whom we trust to identify individuals incapable of taking this decision themselves. There is a risk that information could be included without our knowledge and consent.
And there are issues of who owns the chip and rights to the whole lifecycle of the chip and its human container. Chip manufacturing companies get sold: would we ever know who was responsible for the information in the chips in our bodies?
The chipping of humans is no longer science fiction. The seeming quick fix of a ‘swipe and scan’ approach to dealing with people in a pandemic has raised some interesting questions