Half of northern Europe heads south to the sunshine states around the Mediterranean for their summer holidays. Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Croatia, etc all have economies where tourism is a very important. At the moment they are locked down and there are travel restrictions in place.
However, there are vaccination programs in operation in many countries, which, it is hoped, will lead to the re-opening of the tourism and travel business in the summer. But there are risks. Covid-19 spread very rapidly last year in the UK. The vector was from tourists returning from winter holidays in Italy. This could happen again if vaccination proves to be ineffective against a new variant of Covid-19. But then there are hopes to develop new, efficient procedures where new vaccines can be found quickly…But we are not there yet.
Any vaccine passport is going to have to be thorough if it is to be used as the basis on which someone can board their holiday flight. There is also the question of testing. Someone can be vaccinated but can also be infectious.
If someone from the UK wants to go for two weeks holiday in Greece, what would they need? Proof of a vaccine shot and booster? Lateral flow test or swab test? Do they get tested again when they come back? What if they are positive for some variant?
The vaccination rollouts in many EU countries are quite glacial at the moment and the politicians are under a lot of pressure. Many are making very contrasting interpretations of the vaccine trial data regarding who does and does not get a vaccinated with which vaccine. The French have decided that the Oxford vaccine is not effective for the over 65s, so they will have to wait for supplies of an alternative to become available. In the UK the authorities have come to exactly the opposite conclusion looking at the same data. The decision on the efficacy of a vaccine is clearly a political issue, depending on what exactly the government has on the vaccine shelf at that moment to offer its population.
So if someone over 65s from the UK wants a holiday in France, what is the status of their vaccine passport if it says Oxford vaccine? There will be many such inconsistencies that need to be resolved.
This will get very confused and messy, very quickly trying to find common ground amongst many national governments. The EU is not good at quick solutions to short term problems. It takes too long to reach a consensus. This is becoming very painfully obvious with its vaccine procurement process, which has been widely criticized for its slowness and poor leadership.
I expect the UK may come to some bi-lateral deals with Greece and Spain, where there is a mutual interest in getting the travel and tourism markets opened up. I am sure if it includes help with their vaccine roll-outs, that would certainly oil the wheels of commerce.
As we go from vaccine nationalism to vaccine diplomacy, it is clear that the Russia and China are already there in the world outside the western bubble.
All the talk of science and technology is just a fig leaf used by governments to excuse the decisions they have already made on the basis of their political relationships and resources at hand.
So it will be, with talk of vaccine passports. Who gets to travel where and when is a political matter, it does not depend on what technology is used. Regular passports are already a huge mix of technical standards that are by no means universally implemented to the same standard. It is unlikely that vaccine passports will be any different.
I would not be surprised if Boris Johnson does a deal with Greece for holidays in the sun for Brits trying to shake off the Covid winter blues. Some mutually recognised passport stamp? He knows the vaccine program is going well, way ahead of the EU states. If you are coming from a country with an effective vaccine rollout and has lockdown policies to mitigate infection, that is far safer bet that one that is clearly in the doldrums.
However, it is a game of two halves. What about those returning from a couple of weeks holiday? That would need testing at the airports and that could involve huge numbers of people. At the moment travel is very locked down and 10days in government nominated quarantine hotel at your own expense is not practical. So if that were to be relaxed, what do you do with those that test positive? You can’t exactly send them back if they are your own tourists. So send them home to self isolate?
The complications seem endless!