At Holyrood’s health and sport committee today, Shadow Health Minister, Highlands & Islands MSP David Stewart, asked Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Technology, Michael Matheson, for his view on Covid Passports as a route to opening borders and returning to international travel.
Mr Stewart, who has been keeping the issue at the forefront of his communications with the Scottish Government – raising it initially with National Clinical Director Jason Leitch and arguing its merits in Holyrood with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon – today told Mr Matheson he strongly believed Scotland and the UK risked being left behind if it did not begin to seek international co-operation for some form of digital passport which holds a traveller’s COVID-19 immunity status.
In his reply, Mr Matheson echoed the sentiments of Miss Sturgeon, saying he was “not persuaded that it was the right approach at the present moment”. He said there were too many challenges around new variants of the virus and a lack of understanding around how the vaccine operated in the transmission stages. He also said civil liberty issues first needed to be addressed.
Speaking afterwards, Mr Stewart said: “I was grateful to the Cabinet Secretary for his response and wanted to make the wider point that these passports could be an additional longer-term strategy to quarantine. I wanted to raise it because I feel this is a massive issue which needs to get straightened out and Scotland and the UK have leadership roles to play. I just cannot see how international travel and our tourism industry can be built back up until an internationally-recognised passport showing people’s immunity status is brought in. Already, Europe is working at pace with this with the Greek government active. And we are already see airlines approaching this initiative which has been raised by people like our former Prime Minister Tony Blair and we’ve had it raised, albeit rather ambiguously, at UK government level. Obviously, it’s a longer term issue, but I believe it is going to happen. Mr Matheson and the First Minister have both said too little is known about the virus, it’s too soon for this scheme, but surely, given the scale of the pandemic and the research into COVID-19, our understanding around the nature of infection and immunity is going to rise rapidly. Leading scientists have said it: the clinical infection, with or without a measurement of antibody response, could form the basis of a time-limited immunity passport. What is really concerning me is the ability of government to deliver such a robust system if they are not already actively working on it.”
Mr Stewart said he agreed there were ethical issues but he believes those can be addressed.
He added: “It does indeed raise questions around is it right that some people should be allowed greater freedoms if they have been vaccinated while those who might want the vaccination but are still waiting cannot be allowed those freedoms? The way I look at it is every decision we make right now is going to come with consequences but allowing people to travel as soon as they are able to will help the global economy to rebuild. And for those individuals who don’t want to be vaccinated for personal reasons, that is their democratic right and I respect that. But while people have the freedom to have the vaccine or not, they do not have the freedom to place others at risk because of that decision.”