As England’s coronavirus lockdown eases, the debate over how to do it safely rages as fiercely as at any time in the last year.
On Monday Edward Argar, the health minister, specifically cited Israel’s green pass system as the potential basis for allowing England, or at least some of the people living there, to return to near-normality.
Israel has vaccinated 5.27 million of its 9 million or so population, the highest rate in the world. What is its green pass system and how does it work?
Who can get a pass?
To be able to ask for a green pass, someone must have had both doses of a coronavirus vaccine or have recovered from infection. It is equivalent to the domestic “Covid passports” that are being discussed in the UK.
Children under 16 who have recovered from Covid-19 can be added to their parents’ documents.
The pass can be either physical or displayed in a mobile phone app. It is available in Hebrew only.
It is valid for six months beginning a week after the second vaccine dose, or until the end of June 2021 for recovered patients.
Some people have marched in protest against the scheme, calling it tyrannical and saying it creates a privileged “vaccinated class” of people in a new two-tier society.
If Israel’s system were ported over to England as-is, the most obvious effect would be to bar younger people from participating in activities their parents and others were allowed to enjoy freely, because the UK’s vaccine rollout has proceeded on the basis of age.
Where are they used?
A pass-holder is allowed to access many places others may not, including gyms, restaurants, theatres and cinemas, sporting venues, hotels and cultural events.
Face masks remain mandatory, however.
If someone has a physical green pass, they must present it along with another identity document to be allowed inside, while the app uses QR codes for verification.
Haaretz reported when the app was rolled out in February that the systems supporting it were initially unable to cope, and that forgery and other verification problems were a serious headache for developers even after launch.
There have also been reports that businesses may not be enforcing the rules as strictly as they should.
The Morning Advertiser interviewed Israeli bar owners who expressed surprise that their staff did not need to prove they had been vaccinated in order to return to work.
What did Mr Argar say?
On Monday Mr Argar denied that the government had changed its position on the use of so-called vaccine passports.
Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccine minister, had previously called them discriminatory – but the idea is due to be trialled soon in pilot events.
Asked on BBC Breakfast whether ministers had altered their view, Mr Argar said: “I don't think it is that at all.
“What we are seeing here is that there are a number of things we've had to do as a country and individuals over the past year that I don't think any of us would choose to do or want to do, but the nature of this disease has meant we've had to do some fairly unpalatable things that we would not have chosen to do.
“And in this context, and I don't want to pre-empt the review that Michael Gove [the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster] is undertaking, but he has been clear that if you look at for example other countries like Israel, which have had a high level of vaccination and are beginning to see how they can open up their economy and country faster – I think they have something called 'green passes' – I think it is right that we look at this and see if there is a way that, while balancing all of those practical, ethical and fairness considerations, is there a way this could, in the short-term, speed-up our reopening of the country and getting back to doing the things we love?
“I don't think anyone would wish to do it but I think it is right that it is looked at as, 'Can this help us go a little bit faster and get our country back to normal?’.”
The Mail on Sunday reported last month that UK ministers planned to discuss the green passes’ effectiveness with their Israeli counterparts, in a possible sign such a scheme was taking shape for England.
Mr Gove is due to report the results of his review in June.
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