The Liberal Democrat leader pointed to the US, where Joe Biden this week promoted financial rewards of $100 for people who get inoculated.
With the Delta variant driving a vast new surge of infections across the US, and unvaccinated people accounting for 99 per cent of fatalities in June, the US Treasury Department has said that state, local and territorial governments will be able to dip into their allocated $350bn of coronavirus aid to pay Americans who come forward for a jab.
“I know that paying people to get vaccinated might sound unfair to folks who have gotten vaccinated already. But here’s the deal: if incentives help us beat this virus, I believe we should use them,” Mr Biden said on Thursday, also introducing new rules requiring federal workers to provide proof of vaccination or face regular testing.
In the UK, where the most recent figures suggest just 66 per cent of 18 to 29-year-olds have had their first dose – a statistic reported to be alarming ministers. Although Boris Johnson’s government is understood to have climbed down from proposals to bar unvaccinated university students from accessing lectures and residence halls.
But plans to use mandatory vaccination in nightclubs as a coercive tool to boost uptake are still set to go ahead, with Tory MP Damian Collins telling Times Radioon Saturday that “it might be unreasonable for someone who has decided not to get vaccinated to expect to be treated in the same way as someone who has been vaccinated twice”.
Insisting that using vaccine passports for nightclubs was the “wrong approach”, Sir Ed said: “Look at what President Biden’s doing. He’s taking an incentivising approach ... should we not be looking at that?”
Pressed by LBC presenter Iain Dale that he was “surely not suggesting that we should be paying people to be vaccinated”, Sir Ed responded: “I think we should look at that model – why has he done that? Why has Biden done that?
“At the moment, going down the government’s road, we’re going to pay for that as well. They’ve just put out a tender which they reckon will cost at least £23m.
“That means you can add a [zero] onto that, with this government. So they’re going to spend millions and millions of pounds on a Covid ID system, and they could spend that money on incentivising it.”
Earlier on Saturday, the Lib Dem leader accused the government of an “abuse of democracy” by making changes to the NHS app to allow it to double up as an electronic vaccine passport – while parliament is in recess.
“We’ve all agreed that for international travel you’ll need to have Covid options,” the Lib Dem leader told Times Radio. “But domestically – sort of Covid ID cards ... this would be a real attack on people’s freedoms and particularly hit businesses and young people – it is unworkable, it is expensive and it is divisive.
“That’s why the government haven’t gone ahead with it previously. Now we hear, in the recess when parliament can’t debate it, they’ve by stealth changed the rules so your NHS app could be used as a Covid ID card across venues.”
He added: “It is an abuse of democracy, it is an abuse of power and it threatens taking people’s freedoms away and stigmatising young people, hitting businesses – that is not acceptable.”
The Department for Health and Social Care has been approached for comment.
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